By Michael Lindemann
(April 16, 1998) -- With two of NASA's three promised Mars Global Surveyor images of the controversial Cydonia landforms on Mars now delivered, hopes for proof of artificial structures on the Red Planet have somewhat dimmed.
Referring to the new image of the famous "Face on Mars," some NASA scientists took an "I told you so" attitude.
"Anyone who has flown in an airplane will recognize that this (Face) is natural," MGS chief scientist Arden L. Albee of the California Institute of Technology told the Washington Post. "There will always be a few die-hards, but I think the American people will look at this and wonder what all the fuss was about."
"It's a butte, a mesa, a knob," said Michael Ravine, advanced projects manager at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, which operates Surveyor's camera. "Nothing jumps out at me and screams, 'This must have been built by the forces of intelligence.'"
But if anyone thought the new images would quickly settle the issue once and for all, they are gravely mistaken. The controversy rages on. The new Cydonia images are at best ambiguous and leave many questions unanswered.
Independent Cydonia researchers were quick to point out that the raw images posted to NASA's website from the Mars Global Surveyor -- an image of the famous "Face" on April 5, and an image of part of the "City" on April 14 -- left much to be desired. In both cases, contrast was low, requiring considerable enhancement to bring up recognizable features. In both cases, resolution was also lower than expected, although at least ten times better than the resolution of the famous 1976 Viking shots that started the Cydonia controversy.
In the case of the Face, important details of the structure were obscured, leaving unanswered the longstanding question of whether the Face has symmetrical features on both left and right sides. Part of the problem was camera angle. But MGS camera operator Michael Malin also pointed out that the Cydonia region was partly covered by haze, reducing available light. "The area imaged was relatively clear," Malin said, but "the lack of surface definition in many nearby areas, and the low contrast of the raw high resolution image, suggests haze or fog over much of the area."
In the case of the City, the MGS camera missed the intended target zone known as "City Square" and instead caught ambiguous mounds and hill-like features about 1.5 kilometers to the west.
Still, those who hoped the Cydonia landforms would prove intelligent activity on Mars had to admit that the surface features shown in the new images might very well be the result of natural geology and erosion.
"In the 1976 Viking images, the impression of a face was unmistakable. But illuminated from below, the Face seems less remarkable," said Dr. Mark Carlotto in his preliminary analysis of the April 5 MGS image.
Carlotto, one of the leading proponents of the theory that the Cydonia landforms are artificial, pointed out that some features in the new Face image still suggest artificiality, notably a very uniform "beveled edge" previously referred to as a "head-piece" or "helmet" encircling the Face, and what appears to be a flat, well-defined platform on which the raised features of the Face are positioned.
"But it is apparent that the Face, if it is in fact a Face, is severely eroded... Perhaps [it] can be explained geologically," Carlotto said.
Unlike Carlotto, Cydonia analyst Tom Van Flandern took a decidedly upbeat stance. "The humanoid facial features that first drew attention to this area are confirmed by this [new] photo despite poor lighting and poor viewing angle," Van Flandern wrote. "One feature, the headdress, is so much a symmetrical combination of right-angle linear and rounded features as to suggest artificiality strongly.... Other new features are so uncommon that they raise more questions than they answer. Nothing yet seen on our Moon or any other solar system surface besides Earth suggests artificiality to a comparable degree."
Professor Stanley V. McDaniel, co-founder and spokesman for The Society for Planetary SETI Research (SPSR), joined with other SPSR members on April 7 to issue a press release concerning their initial impressions of the new Face image. McDaniel, whose now-famous 1993 "McDaniel Report" accused NASA of purposely ignoring the potential importance of Cydonia, offered some perspective on the scientific process of evaluating the new images.
"We've been studying the Cydonian region of Mars for two decades," he said. "It has taken us that long to produce the statistical studies and image analysis that allow us to conclude there's a high probability that some of the Cydonia features may be nonrandom or even artificial. We're thrilled that NASA and JPL have worked so hard to produce these images.
"Science takes time, so we'll be analyzing... the Mars Global Surveyor images of Cydonia with great care to discover whether they confirm or disconfirm our findings.
"With the arrival of new images from the Global Surveyor, there will... be a temptation to make premature conclusions. No one image of the Face will end the controversy because of the two-dozen or so other anomalous formations in the region which form the basis of many of our statistical conclusions," McDaniel said.
Prior to the arrival of the new MGS images, McDaniel and other SPSR scientists, including Dr. Mark Carlotto and Dr. Horace Crater, had confidently stated that the odds were thousands-to-one in favor of artificial structures at Cydonia.
Richard Hoagland, perhaps the most outspoken of all Cydonia researchers, wasted no time accusing NASA of obscuring the truth. "Two-thirds of the data is missing" from the image of the Face, Hoagland said, referring to the low contrast in the MGS raw data, which appears to deliver only about 80 out of a possible 256 shades of gray. The picture is "crap" and "useless," according to Hoagland.
But most other analysts seem ready to accept the MGS images as straightfoward and unretouched, an honest attempt by NASA to fulfill its public promise to reimage Cydonia, for better or worse.
Glenn E. Cunningham of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, manager of the Global Surveyor project, emphasized that NASA had purposely posted the raw data as fast as possible, even though to an untrained eye that data might look very unimpressive.
"There've been charges of conspiracy and manipulating the data and we want to make it very clear to everybody that no such activity goes on here," Cunningham said.
As for NASA's official attitude on the face, he added, "We're taking a neutral stand."
With the Face still ambiguous, hopes shifted to other features in the nearby "City," features that Carlotto and others have said are actually of greater interest than the Face. Notable among these features is the so-called "City Square," a formation of four small mounds arranged in what appears to be a perfect square, clearly visible in the 1976 Viking image. A large "Main Pyramid" north of the square, and the so-called "Fortress" just east of the main pyramid, are also of great interest.
"Being more geometrical in shape, these objects, if they are artificial, may have retained enough of their architecture to be recognizable, even in a degraded condition," Carlotto says.
Mars Global Surveyor was to have targeted the City Square on its second imaging attempt on April 14. Had it been properly aimed, the new image would probably have captured the Square, the Main Pyramid and at least part of the Fort. However, MGS missed its target by about 1.5 kilometers. The features it did capture are of marginal interest and, on first inspection, seem unlikely to demonstrate artificiality.
Remaining hopes now shift to the next imaging attempt, scheduled for April 23. As of this writing, available information suggests that MGS will once again target the City with the intent of capturing more provocative features.
It is not clear that MGS will produce any more high-resolution images of the Cydonia region after the current three imaging attempts this month. However, according to a statement from CNN science correspondent John Holloman, reported by Jeff Rense on his nationally syndicated program "Sightings on the Radio," NASA chief administrator Daniel Goldin has offered new assurances that the Cydonia region will be photographed repeatedly, "until the people are satisfied."
Summarizing the current situation, Professor McDaniel says, "While we are both pleased and perplexed with the long awaited new data from Cydonia, we encourage the entire scientific community to join with the SPSR in using standard scientific analytical techniques before announcing conclusions about the area's possible artificial nature. With the release of new images by JPL, SPSR plans to conduct an intensive multi-disciplinary analysis of the data in order to understand what, if anything, might have once occurred at Cydonia. It is the intention of SPSR to make these results available to the media in a timely, accurate, and responsible manner."
CNI News will report the latest results from the upcoming third MGS imaging attempt and the ongoing analysis of the new images in our May 1 edition.
For updated image enhancements and further analysis, see:
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