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Views On The Martian Polar Spring

From: Kurt Jonach <ewarrior@electricwarrior.com>
Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2001 02:12:10 -0700
Fwd Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2001 07:45:50 -0400
Subject: Views On The Martian Polar Spring


The Electric Warrior: Front Page April 23, 2001


by The Electric Warrior

There is an incredible image of what appears to be trees or
bushes on the surface of Mars. Photographed at the height of
the south polar Spring, what this image actually shows is
widely disputed. There are more of these features, all over
Mars. You have to know where and how to look for them.

The search for life on Mars has intrigued planetary science
for more than half a century. For twenty-five years every
scientific mission to Mars was sent there to look for life.
Yet, as often as not, when evidence for life is actually
found, it is disputed as inconclusive.


Among all the other planets in our solar system, Mars is the
most like Earth.

Not only is the Martian day about twenty-four hours long, but
also the Martian year cycles through the same seasonal changes,
due to the sideways tilt of its planetary axis, which is
almost the same as Earth, and different from any other planet.

Both planets are within what scientists call the habitable
zone, so called because conditions are favorable to life. The
idea is easy enough to understand: too close to the Sun and
the elements are heated to a gaseous state, too far away and
the elements are frozen solid.

Water can exist as a liquid at temperatures in this zone. All
life, as we understand it, depends on water.

But the most provocative thing about Mars is the seasonal
changes of dark green areas on the surface, which become more
pronounced during summer and more subdued during winter, even
as the polar ice caps alternately frost or defrost in due

Some have suggested that the mystery of these changes can be
explained by the seasonal flourishing and decay of Martian


The astronomer Gerard Peter Kuiper is regarded by many as the
Father of Modern Planetary Science. In 1948 he focused his
telescopic attention on Mars, in an effort to determine whether
life existed there. Kuiper observed Mars using an infrared
spectrograph, an optical instrument used to separate visible
light into a rainbow of spectral lines, like a prism.

Kuiper analyzed the Martian polar caps, which he said were
composed of water rather than carbon dioxide. Today, the north
polar cap is known to be water ice. Later observations made by
NASA's Viking orbiters showed that temperatures remain cold
enough, even in summer, for the south polar cap to consist of
carbon dioxide.

Kuiper also observed the Martian green areas.  He believed these
spots were low-order plants like mosses and lichens, which "act
like sponges and suck up water vapor present in the air." His
spectral analysis concluded that the dark areas on Mars had a
signature consistent with that of chlorophyll.

This green colored pigment, which explains the color of plants,
is also a key element in the process of photosynthesis. Plants
can synthesize food from carbon dioxide and water, relying only
on sunlight as a source of energy. The byproduct of
photosynthesis is important to life on Earth because higher life
forms, such as humans and animals, must rely on plants for this
basic source of food.

The 1997 Pathfinder mission failed to detect the presence of
chlorophyll on Mars. Exobiologists argue that the geological
color filters built into Pathfinder's camera had such a limited
spectral range that only the most blatant signs of chlorophyll
would be registered.

A Russian scientist, Dr. Serguei Pershin, recently claimed he
discovered evidence for the organic pigment on Mars using images
from the Hubble Space Telescope. Pershin, who was a principal
investigator for NASA's ill-fated Mars Polar Lander mission, had
won a competition that placed Russia's first experiment on board
a US spacecraft.

After the Polar Lander mission failed in 1999, the only option
open to Pershin in resolving the question of chlorophyll on Mars
was remote sensing techniques using Earth-based telescopes.
Essentially, the same thing Kuiper did in 1948.



There's a principal among astrobiologists which states, "Where
there's water there's life."

In recent years, the discovery of life in harsh environments has
completely changed our understanding of where life might be
found. Extremophiles are bacteria and other organisms that are
adapted to life in ecological environments too extreme for
mankind. Extreme conditions on Earth would be normal on Mars.

Places like the polar caps on Mars were thought to be too
extreme to support life, but many scientists are now reexamining
the conventional wisdom. The habitable zone, the theoretical
limits between which life can exist, is expanding.

According to NASA's Richard Hoover, "The microbial extremophiles
in the Arctic and Antarctic glaciers and permafrost represent
analogues for cells that might be encountered in the permafrost
or ice caps of Mars." Hoover describes a process of
cryopreservation that explains how even higher plants, such as
moss, remain dormant, yet still alive, for thousands, perhaps
millions of years.

With very low snowfall, most of the Antarctic continent is
technically a desert. These regions on Earth are similar to
environmental conditions on Mars.

Last summer, the Mars Global Surveyor team reported that high-
resolution images showed evidence of liquid water seepage and
ponding in the geologically recent past. Others have argued that
these surface features could be due to the action of carbon

Mars Odyssey, NASA's first mission to Mars since 1999, is the
first spacecraft equipped to detect the presence of near-
surface water. By examining how permafrost changes with the
seasons, NASA hopes to answer the question of whether water
currently exists on Mars.



Every NASA mission to Mars is sent with the search for life as
one of its primary scientific objectives, but the historic
Viking missions were the most ambitious effort ever attempted.
Viking landed two fully automated biological laboratories on

Two out of three science experiments, mankind's most
knowledgeable efforts to answer this important question,
returned positive results. But, further investigation involving
inorganic chemical reactions determined the results were

"Some people very much want there to be life on Mars; others
very much want there to be no life on Mars," wrote Carl Sagan in
his 1984 book "Cosmos", summarizing a conflict that continues to
this day. "Some scientists have believed that Mars is inhabited
on what has later proved to be the flimsiest evidence. Others
have concluded the planet is lifeless because a preliminary
search for a particular manifestation of life has been
unsuccessful or ambiguous."

Sagan, Kuiper's pupil, worked on NASA's Mariner and Viking
missions. An enthusiastic supporter of the search for
extraterrestrial life and intelligence, his "Cosmos" television
series popularized science worldwide. Although willing to follow
scientific investigation wherever it might lead, Sagan
nonetheless argued that extraordinary claims required
extraordinary evidence.

So it was that Sagan came to debunk the theories of the first
man to widely popularize the notion of life on Mars. The
astronomer Percival Lowell championed the idea that the dark
regions on Mars contained plant life similar to that of Earth.
But Lowell went far beyond that notion, by also deducing the
existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.

It was Lowell who first popularized the idea of a network of
Martian canals, bringing water from the poles to regions that he
imagined were similar to the deserts of the American Southwest.

Sagan compared Lowell's maps to actual photographs of Mars taken
by Mariner 9, and wrote that he found virtually no correlation
at all. "It was not that Lowell's eye had strung up disconnected
fine detail on the Martian surface into illusory strait lines.
There was no dark mottling or crater chains in the position of
his canals. There were no features there at all."

The Viking Orbiter missions also introduced the first enigmatic
photographs of the notorious Face on Mars, and the search for
extraterrestrial intelligence shifted focus to what many believe
to be the archeological remains of an ancient civilization.

Sagan didn't advocate any linkage between life on Mars and
extraterrestrial intelligence, as Lowell had, arguing instead
that intelligent life on Earth becomes apparent when
photographed from space at a high enough resolution. Viking
orbiters had achieved that tens of meters resolution, and the
Mars Global Surveyor can resolve images at up to one meter.

"Technical civilizations, canal builders, might be easy to
detect. But except for one or two enigmatic features, nothing of
the sort is apparent in the exquisite profusion of Martian
surface detail uncovered by unmanned spacecraft," wrote Sagan.
"However, there are many other possibilities, ranging from
larger plants and animals to microorganisms, to extinct forms,
to a planet that is now and was always lifeless."

It's interesting that Sagan didn't exclude the possibility of
vegetation on Mars, including large plants, even after examining
the scientific data returned by the Viking missions. On the
Internet, there is a controversial topic, first discussed among
independent Mars anomaly researchers, that involves something
besides ancient civilizations.

The Mars Orbital Camera has photographed some unusual surface
features that resemble organic life forms on Mars.



At the turn of the millennium, on the heels of scientists that
suggested there might be plant life on Mars, an acclaimed author
said that NASA had taken some incredible photographs, which
failed any other explanation but that they showed large forms of
life. Arthur C. Clarke, best known for writing "2001: A Space
Odyssey", didn't expect people to simply take his word for it.
He challenged them to take a look.

There are many similar photographs in the set of images taken by
NASA's Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). But, it is important to
consider technical data such as pixel resolution and geographic
location that accompany each image.

One of the photographs Clarke referred to was taken near the
south pole, at the height of the spring season. Its geographic
location near the temporary ice cap might have an important
bearing on the organic life cycle of its surface features.

It takes two Earth years for Mars to orbit the Sun, and the
Martian spring season lasts for half a year on Earth. There are
dynamic changes at the pole during this time, as the seasonal
ice pack melts away. So, the time of year is significant when
examining these features in the MGS image set. Inorganic
features don't change much over time, but living things do.

Many of the images in the following discussion are analyzed here
for the first time, with reference to the ancillary data.




Figure 1 is cropped from M0804688, captured on October 19, 1999
by the Mars Orbital Camera (MOC) on board NASA's MGS spacecraft.
It was late Spring at the Martian south pole.

This is one of the images which Arthur C. Clarke said was pretty
convincing proof of the existence of large forms of life on
Mars. It's easy to see why. There is a striking resemblance to
Earthy foliage or plant life. The only inorganic explanation for
the fractal, branching patterns would involve the growth of
crystalline patterns that are formed by ice or minerals.

"I do not believe that these will be explained as 'geological
features' or illusions," wrote Clarke in an message forwarded to
the Cydonia mailing list from Dr. Eugene Mallove, who exchanges
email with the acclaimed author on a regular basis. "Only
closer-in imaging will decide the matter. There is much more, as
time will tell."




Figure 2 is from M0804874, captured the next day, on October 20.
At first glance, the features in this image may appear to have
very little to do with the first.

However, an examination of the ancillary data that is logged for
each image reveals that the second image was taken at a
different resolution. The second image is, effectively, zoomed-

The light, off-white branching patterns against some darker
material present an unmistakable suggestion of organic matter
similar to branched stems or roots.

The dark material might be some kind of pigmented, organic
growth. It's difficult to imagine that the lighter features are
cracks on the surface of Mars, because they clearly overlay and
blend with the dark material, which itself appears to lie on top
of the surface.

It is widely held that water on Mars is subject to sublimation.
That is, water would transform directly from a solid to a
gaseous state, or vice-versa, without becoming a liquid. So, are
these patterns produced by ice?




Figure 3 is from M0902042. Once again, the surface features
appear to be similar, but not quite the same as the plant- like
features in Figure 1.

Yet again, the ancillary data for the images reveals that the
third image was also taken at a different resolution, only this
time the image is effectively zoomed-out. The record also shows
that this image was captured a few weeks later than the first
two, on November 8.

Even though Mars' south polar region was now much closer to
Summer, it should be understood that the climate on Mars is
generally much colder than that of Earth, and temperatures at
the poles colder still.

The Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) science team, which also
has an instrument on board MGS, has done work to show that
atmospheric reflections consist of carbon dioxide sublimating
into dry ice snow. Clouds of dry ice are observed by MOLA at
night, particularly over the Martian polar caps.

When MOC imaged the shrunken south polar ice cap in April of
2000, -- at the height of summer -- it was noted by Malin Space
Science Systems (MSSS) that in Spring the entire scene would be
covered by frost. It is reasonable to suggest that Figure 3
depicts the same kind of surface features as Figure 1, only this
time covered with dry ice snow.



We've seen how the scaled pixel width can be different, so that
the features appear either zoomed-in or zoomed-out. We've also
seen how the surface features might change over time.

The three photographs discussed so far can be mathematically
scaled, so that the surface features can be viewed at
effectively the same resolution. A photographic plate shows
three scaled images, for a side by side comparison.


When scaled, the surface features in Figures 1 and 2 visually
blend together, almost seamlessly, even though they are actually
kilometers apart. The sparse, apparently tufted growth, and
similar markings on the ground, suggest that that the only
difference between Figures 1 and 3 is that the latter is indeed
covered by ice or snow.




If the plant-like objects on Mars are really inorganic
geological features, then the passing of the seasons might have
something to do with their visibility. Their proximity to the
Martian south pole could mean that they are covered by ice for
part of the year, but the features themselves would not change.

However, if these features really are some kind of vegetation,
then a data record which tells us what day and month a certain
image was captured becomes much more important, because in the
case of living organisms, we might expect to see some change or

Figure 4 is from M0402115, captured on August 20. This date
falls in the early Spring, which on Mars is about six months
long. The image shows an entire field of small dark features,
similar to what can be seen in the open spaces between the large
plant-like objects we've seen so far.

Are these small, jagged dark spots, photographed earlier in the
season, really the same kind of plant life? Do they represent
new growth? The features in Figure 4 are in the same geographic
region as those in our first image -- offset by only one degree
latitude and longitude -- but the Figure 1 image was taken two
months later.

Is it possible that the features in Figure 4 experienced enough
growth in two months' time to end up looking like large tufted,
branching plants? It might be more likely that the larger plants
are more mature, surviving season to season.

The Martian south pole experiences longer and colder winters
than the north, because at that time Mars is near aphelion, the
point in its orbit that is farthest from the Sun. The
eccentricity of the planet's orbit also makes southern
hemisphere summers shorter, but hotter, than northern hemisphere

So, Martian plant life would have a more favorable spring and
summer at the south pole, but would also have to adapt to a
colder winter and dry-ice frost. Earthly extremophiles remain
dormant for long periods of time when frozen, and resume growth
when thawed.

Both Martian polar caps have a permanent or residual cap, and a
temporary or seasonal cap that disappears in summer. The
seasonal caps extend outward to about 80 degrees latitude.
Interestingly enough, the data record shows that these large
plant-like formations can be found at about 80 degrees latitude,
thriving, perhaps, at the geographic limits of the seasonal ice




The Mars Orbiter Camera captured MO804580 on the same day as the
first image, M0804688, with the tree-like features. This second
image was shot at the same resolution, and at about the same
distance from the pole, but at a different geographic location.

Figure 5 is split, showing features from the top and center of
the full image. M0804580 is interesting because it shows a clear
relationship between the small dark features in Figure 4, and
the leafy features in Figure 1.

The dark fuzzy, features which sparsely populate the top of this
image, appear to grow both larger and more numerous toward the
middle of the image, at which point these features are virtually
indistinguishable from the tree-like features in Figure 1.

Further down, the features thin out, until they are no longer
found at the very bottom. This image appears to show an entire
forest of the Martian plants, at various stages of growth and




Image M0801095 was captured a few weeks earlier than the last
image, on October 5. It was captured at the same resolution, in
the same geographic location, but a little closer to the south

Figure 6 is split. The full image shows the same kind of small,
dark and fuzzy features we have seen before at the top, but this
time the features at the bottom are ice covered. Between these
two cropped sections, the apparent foliage gets progressively
thicker, until it thins out again toward the bottom.

Since this single image shows ground features that are both
covered and uncovered by frost, the idea that Figure 3 may also
be covered by frost no longer sounds so strange or contrived.




Figure 7, from M1001442, is different from the other images
discussed so far, because in this case there are plant-like
formations apparently thriving on top of a field of ice, instead
of being covered by it.

This image shows patches of dark, tufted material, bunched into
a swirling fractal arrangement. This paisley pattern is next to
a dark mass of thicker material at the bottom right of the
cropped image. In the full image, this dark mass of thicker
material extends for some distance until it thins out, like the
features in Figures 5 and 6.

M1001442 is also one of the zoomed-in images in this set. It was
captured at the same resolution as Figure 2, so it gives us a
very close-up view. Taken on December 12, a date much later than
any of the images discussed so far, this picture represents the
commencement of Summer at the Martian south pole.

These features are smaller than most of the others, and were
imaged so much later, that they might be entirely new plant
growth that flourished some time during the Spring. The plant-
like features are difficult to explain in anything but living,
organic terms. In this case, the fine, dark, hair-like growth is
seen in stark contrast against a field of ice.

So, are the dark patterns on ice in Figure 7 really the result
of some sublimated or quickly frozen inorganic material? And,
are the similar but light colored patterns in Figure 1 therefore
the result of some different, sublimated inorganic material on
the ground? Or are they all just a bunch of rocks? Strewn here
and there in fancy patterns on the ground, on top of the ice,
under the ice, what have you?

At what point is it easier to say that these features are really
some kind of organic vegetation, rather than reaching for
inorganic explanations? Is it too brash to ask science to
explain whether these features really are, or how it is they are
not, some kind of plant life of Mars?




The last photograph discussed in this series is from a
geographic location about half the polar circumference away from
the large tree-like formations in Figure 1, but at roughly the
same distance from the pole.

Figure 8 from M1000205 was captured on December 2, at the very
end of the Martian south polar Spring. Although this image has
only half the resolution of Figure 7, it gives us many more
clues about how these lifelike objects interact with the now
shrinking south polar ice cap.

The full image appears to run along at the edge of the temporary
ice cap, with part of the view now covered by dirty ice or snow,
part of the view now showing the exposed, earthen terrain.

The cropped picture in Figure 8 shows a dark mass of apparently
organic growth. This mass looks like a clump or aggregation of
dark, branching tentacles, which give way to light colored,
fiber-like tentacles at its edge.

The light colored tentacles reach down to an area of ice or snow
at the bottom of the figure, which has already melted away at
the top. It looks as if the new, hair like tentacles have grown
out, to take sustenance from a disappearing source of moisture.

 From top to bottom, in the full image, there are many more
examples of this branching, fibrous material, always found near
the edge of layered ice and snow. Here and there, the branching
features can be seen embedded in mud, in places where the
icepack has already melted away.

At the bottom of image M1000205 is another mass of this
apparently organic material, like the dark mass near the top,
growing on top of the ice. The delicate appearance of the
fiber- like material in this photograph contradicts their true
size. According to the data record, each one of the light
colored, features in Figure 8 are actually as large, or larger
than, the most massive life on Earth.

The largest tree on Earth is a giant sequoia in California, its
massive trunk measuring 35 feet in diameter. The tallest living
tree, another California redwood, stands 367 feet tall. These
trees are rivaled only by the giant gums of Australia,
Eucalyptus regnans, which grow to more that 300 feet high.

At a resolution of about four meters per pixel, the anomalous
root-like features on Mars are about 120 meters (393 feet)long
and 12 meters (39 feet) thick. But, a gigantic organism that
sprouted these enormous root-like features, itself has no
Earthly comparison. At approximately 300 pixels high by 150
pixels wide, the anomalous feature would be more than three-
fourths of a mile long (1.2 kilometers) and three-eights of a
mile (0.6 kilometers) wide.



Do these lifelike features on the Martian surface have a
straightforward, inorganic or geological explanation? Or are
they exactly as they appear to be, pretty convincing evidence of
large forms of life on Mars?

As strange as that life form may seem, conditions that we call
extreme on Earth would simply be facts of life on Mars. We need
a better explanation of life. Not just where it came from, but
how far it actually reaches.

Imagine a form of life on Mars, which follows its own set rules,
and clings tenaciously to life at the south pole as it plays out
its own life cycle. It doesn't know that it exists, nor care
that it can't be defined by either science or self
interest. It's life, and life only.



The images discussed herein can be viewed at the USGS online
PDS Mars Global Surveyor MOC Image Collection.




Clarke's Believe It or Not

The Cydonian Imperative
An online effort to assess breaking developments concerning
potential alien artifacts on Mars

The Mars Initiative
A special research project of The Eras Project, advocating
the continued exploration of Mars.


April 23, 2001
Silicon Valley, CA


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