by Richard C. Hoagland

from EnterpriseMission Website

Part 1

It was one of those sunny, Southern California days that songwriters have made famous.

The group of us gathered at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that morning, just north of Los Angeles, in Pasadena, were still slightly in a daze; just a week or so before, this same diverse assembly – veterans of America’s fledgling space program ranging from space scientists to space journalists, from network anchors to their production staffs and advisors – had been uniquely privileged to witness firsthand the modern culmination of a Dream:

Neil Armstrong’s first immortal footprints on the Moon.

Now, seemingly but an eye blink later, this same diverse group was gathering for an equally unprecedented encore … the flyby of an even farther planet by twin unmanned NASA spacecraft: Mariners 6 and 7. The destination this time?


This was not the first visit by an American spacecraft to the mysterious Red Planet. That honor was reserved for a previous unmanned mission – Mariner 4 – which flew only 6000 miles away in July of 1965. But now, only four years later – literally, as Neil and Buzz were being simultaneously debriefed in their quarantine in Houston from their extraordinary human adventures on the Moon just days before – those of us covering the on-going NASA program were anticipating the impending reconnaissance of the next “obvious destination” for human beings beyond the surface of the Moon (as viewed from the unbelievable perspective of “the Summer of 1969”)—

Mars itself.

Now just days away from Mars this late July, the two new unmanned spacecraft (above) were far more sophisticated than the pioneering Mariner 4; instead of a single television camera as the major “science instrument,” Mariner 6 & 7 carried dual television systems (for narrow and wide-angle imaging) – including, a capability for the first close-up color images of Mars; in addition, as opposed to the set of interplanetary “particle and field” experiments carried by Mariner 4, these spacecraft focused solely on an array of sophisticated additional instrumentation for the first detailed close-up spectral analysis of Mars atmosphere and surface.

These “ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers” -- capable of detecting extremely low concentrations of a range of atmospheric gases – were co-mounted with the cameras on a movable “scan platform,” which hung below the main body of the spacecraft (above). It was through searching for key “biomarkers” in the Martian atmosphere, gases that on Earth are created by living organisms, that the NASA scientists hoped to find out if Mars might be “alive.” In particular, the Mariner instruments were searching for two key hydrogen compounds -- methane and ammonia -- known to be given off by living systems ….

The twin Mars exploration spacecraft – Mariners 6 and 7 – were launched just a month apart, in February, and again in March, of 1969. They arrived at Mars just four months later; Mariner 6 flying within ~2000 miles of Mars’s surface on July 30th, Mariner 7, following at about the same distance, passing Closest Approach on August 4th.

Unfortunately, during the July 30th flyby, critical refrigeration of the Mariner 6 infrared spectrometer (IRS) malfunctioned – thus preventing the recording of long-wave spectral information. This meant that, if we were going to discover any “biomarkers” indicative of living organisms currently on Mars, we would have to await Mariner 7’s imminent encounter … fortunately, only four days later.

I will always remember that packed JPL Auditorium, 48 hours after Mariner 7 successfully flew by the planet Mars. Its IRS instrument had worked perfectly, but it had taken almost two additional days for the Berkeley science team (whose experiment it was) to fly to and from Berkeley to reduce their preliminary spectra. Now, they were back at JPL … about to tell us what they’d found.

First up, however, was a display of the spectacular fly-by Mariner 7 images (below). The classic, enigmatic dark markings had never been this clear; the rotation of the planet so easily discerned -- as the distances, image resolution, and early questions raised by never-before-seen details were patiently explained by the Imaging Team Leader and his colleagues.

Soon – for those of us waiting impatiently for the crucial spectrometer results – the picture show was over. Now, another side of history was about to begin ….

As Science Advisor for the Special Events Unit of CBS News, I was standing at the back of Von Karman this particular morning, beside veteran CBS reporter Bill Stout, both of us taking in the scene. My job: interpret the technical jargon coming from the NASA panel that Stout didn't understand … which left me with a lot of time to examine the new images and observe the reactions in the room; for I’d quickly learned that Bill Stout – whom I’d met for the first time just weeks before, for our historic coverage of Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon -- knew almost everything about the space program … if not this new Mars mission. Luckily – because of this -- I was free to truly focus on what was going on … and what it felt like to be a witness to space history.

As with everybody else gathered in Von Karman on that morning, though mightily impressed by the new images – which showed Mars with a clarity no human eyes had ever seen before (Lowell included …) – Bill and I ... and a thousand other folks .... were impatiently awaiting the BIG show … the one Mariner scientist guaranteed to make the CBS Evening News that night (after we sent our story to New York), regardless of his results: George Pimentel.

Dr. Pimental was the literal creator and Principal Investigator (chief scientist) for the Mariner 6& 7 Infrared Spectrometers (IRS, below). As each Mariner flew by the planet at about 2000 miles, the infrared spectra recorded by the spacecraft were supposed to tell his team (and us!) if the Martian atmosphere did indeed contain any of the key “biomarkers” just discussed … potential signatures for a “living, breathing Mars.” This (below) is the remarkable instrument that Pimental and his Berkeley Team devised.

Several years earlier, an obscure, visiting JPL medical technology specialist, James Lovelock – who would later gain world wide recognition as author of the then highly controversial “Gaia Hypothesis” – wrote a letter to Nature, the preeminent British science journal. In it Lovelock recommended:

“… some physical tests for the presence of planetary life. One of these was a top down view of the whole planet instead of a local search at the site of landing. The test was simply to analyze the chemical composition of the planet's atmosphere. If the planet were lifeless then it would be expected to have an atmosphere determined by physics and chemistry alone and be close to the chemical equilibrium state. But if the planet bore life, organisms at the surface would be obliged to use the atmosphere as a source of raw materials and as a depository for wastes.


Such a use of the atmosphere would change its chemical composition. It would depart from equilibrium in a way that would show the presence of life. Dian Hitchcock joined me then and together we examined atmospheric evidence from the infra-red astronomy of Mars (Hitchcock and Lovelock 1967). We compared this [ground-based, telescopic] evidence with that available about the sources and sinks of the gases in the atmosphere of the one planet we knew bore life, Earth.


We found an astonishing difference between the two atmospheres. Mars was close to chemical equilibrium and dominated by carbon dioxide, but the Earth was in a state of deep chemical disequilibrium. In our atmosphere carbon dioxide is a mere trace gas. The coexistence of abundant oxygen with methane and other reactive gases, are conditions that would be impossible on a lifeless planet. Even the abundant nitrogen and water are difficult to explain by geochemistry.


No such anomalies are present in the atmospheres of Mars or Venus, and their existence in the Earth's atmosphere signals the presence of living organisms at the surface. Sadly, we concluded that Mars is lifeless now, although it may once have had life….”

Lovelock’s pessimism notwithstanding - obviously based on the technological limitations to finding those key biological indicators, methane, ammonia, etc. in the Martian atmosphere up to that time from Earth - his revolutionary “biomarker” ideas were actually at the heart of Pimental’s Mariner ‘69 experiment. For, Pimental’s spacecraft-based, infrared detectors were now thousands of times closer to Mars … and thus potentially millions of times more sensitive than the best Earth-based telescopic IR observations. If these tell-tale “biomarkers” were present in the Martian atmosphere – even in significantly lower concentrations than on Earth -- this new NASA Mission had the best chance in history of detecting this evidence of living “Martians” ….

Pimental began to speak, and a classic hush fell over the crowded Auditorium. One way or another, we were about to know. He called for his first slide ….

On the giant projection screen that spanned the whole width of Von Karman, a montage of new close-in Mariner 7 images appeared (below). Using this mosaic, Pimental explained the geometry of the simultaneous IRS spectral observations – a swath that took the instrument’s field of view down across the southern Martian latitudes … then across the Pole.

A new graphic appeared (below) -- a squiggly line … depicting Mariner’s read-out of the Martian atmosphere during this imaging sequence. The IRS Principal Investigator carefully explained that, as the instrument crossed the darkened band hugging the edges of the bright white polar cap of solid CO2 (above), two anticipated absorptions suddenly appeared – at 3.0 and 3.3 microns (below).

Quoting from a recent history of Pimental’s Experiment:

“[The] spectra … crossed the south polar cap edge and then continued deep into the polar cap. IRS spectra from the cap edge showed bands at 2.0, 3.0 and 3.3 µm (4900, 3300 and 3020 cm -1 ). They [the IRS Team] knew CO2 ice had a band at 2.0 µm, and this band appeared in all their polar cap spectra, indicating IRS measured CO2 ice the entire time it viewed the cap. However, when moving from the cap edge toward the cap center, both the 3.0 and 3.3 µm bands disappeared. If CO2 ice caused these two bands, then it somehow caused them at the cap edge but not farther into the cap.

“To further complicate the issue, the IRS group could not find any reports in the literature of bands in CO2 ice at 3.0 and 3.3 µm. Therefore, the disappearance of those two bands while IRS still viewed CO2 ice, combined with the lack of reports of CO2 ice bands at those wavelengths led the group to conclude that something which occurred only at the polar cap edge caused the two bands [Pimentel corr., 18 Jul 1972 ].

“To investigate the puzzle in the few hours before the upcoming the Mariner 7 press conference, they spent the night measuring spectra. They were not yet set up to measure sprayed-on CO2 ice in the lab, and so they measured it as a solid block. When they did this, they found no bands at 3.0 and 3.3 µm. On the other hand, their [laboratory] spectra of methane and ammonia gas showed bands at 3.0 and 3.3 µm. Therefore, less than 48 hours after receiving their data, they reported at the Mariner 7 press conference that IRS had measured methane and ammonia at the polar cap edge [Mar. 7 Press Conf. Transcript, 1969]. This created quite a stir because of its implications for life ….”

It was Percival Lowell, the famous 19th Century astronomer -- literal founder of the modern science of “comparative planetology” -- who made the first detailed observations of this mysterious “transition zone” around the annually melting Martian polar caps.

Although Lowell believed, based on the technology of the time and analogy with Earth, that these caps were water ice (we now know – in large part because of Mariners 6 & 7 -- that they’re frozen CO2), other aspects of Lowell’s late 1800’s observations were remarkably accurate – judging by the results of thousands of professional and amateur astronomers’ recent electronic Mars imaging, made during the opposition and closest approach of 2003 (below). (These images are reversed -- with the south Martian polar icecap at the top – as seen in a normal telescopic view.)

As important as his pioneering Mars work would become, Lowell left an even more valuable contribution to this fledgling science of planetology: he made his observations (and that of his colleagues at the Lowell Observatory -- which he founded at Flagstaff, Arizona in the late 1800’s), available to a world wide, general audience. From this, we now have an invaluable public record of the earliest years of planetary science … to compare with modern observations, such as the Mariner ’69 fly-bys … or last years’ closest approach in over 60,000 years.

Writing in his first book in 1895, “MARS,” Lowell observed:

“On May 1, then, Martian time, the cap was already in rapid process of melting; and the speed with which it proceeded to dwindle showed that hundreds of square miles of it were disappearing daily. As it melted, a dark band appeared surrounding it on all sides [above]. Except, as I have since learned, at Arequipa, this band has never, I believe, been distinctively noted or commented on before, which is singular, considering how conspicuous it was at Flagstaff . It is specially remarkable that it should never have been remarked upon elsewhere, in that a similar one girdling the north polar cap was seen by Beer and Madler as far back as for it is, as we shall shortly see, a most significant phenomenon.


In the first place, it was the darkest marking upon the disk, and was of a blue color. It was of different widths at different longitudes, and was especially pronounced in tint where it was widest, notably in two spots where it expanded into great bays, one in longitude 270 degrees and one in longitude 330 degrees. The former of these was very striking for its color, a deep blue, like some other-world grotto of Capri . The band was bounded on the north, that is, on the side toward the equator, by the bluish-green areas of the disk. It was contrasted with those both in tone and tint. It was both darker and more blue ….

“What can explain so general and so consecutive a change in hue? Water suggests itself; for a vast transference of water from the pole to the equator might account for it. But there are facts connected with the change which seem irreconcilable with the idea of water. In the first place, Professor W. H. Pickering found that the light from the great blue-green areas showed no trace of polarization. This tended to strengthen a theory put forth by him some years ago, that the greater part of the blue-green areas are not water, but something which at such a distance would also look blue-green, namely, vegetation. Observations at Flagstaff not only confirm this, but limit the water areas still further; in fact, practically do away with them entirely ….”

Lowell’s observations conditioned later generations of astronomers and readers to anticipate that the “dark band” observed around the shrinking polar cap each Martian spring was likely melting water, which was vital (on the arid planet) to supporting some kind of seasonal vegetation.

As Mariner 7’s IRS instrument swept across this dark transition to the icy polar cap, the sudden appearance of spectral features indicative of well-known byproducts of decomposing vegetation, or colonies of certain microorganisms, seemed to clinch it:

Mariner 7’s remarkable infrared observations, through detection of one of Lovelock’s crucial “biomarkers,” had all-but-confirmed current life on Mars ….


That summer night in 1969, while Walter Cronkite summarized our breaking “possible life on Mars” story from New York, Bill and I watched the west coast network feed – once again from the back of JPL’s Von Karman. As the piece ended, I turned and couldn’t help observing with a wry smile:

“Well, look at that – ‘life on Mars’ ... and we got all of 15 seconds on the Evening News. I wonder what we’d get if they invaded …?”

A few weeks after his remarkable, historical announcement … George Pimental had a sudden “change of heart.”

At a specially-called press conference at NASA Headquarters, in Washington DC, Pimental publicly retracted his previous assertion that Mariner 7 “had discovered methane and ammonia on Mars,” explaining instead that the anomalous lines were more likely due to “CO2 ice when it has lattice imperfections" [Herr and Pimentel, 1969]. The date of Pimental’s retraction?

September 11, 1969 .

Fast forward the film ….


… to, September 2003.

Dr Michael Mumma, of the Center for Astrobiology at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, announces -- at the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences -- the preliminary results of a new, far more sensitive Earth-based search for methane in the atmosphere of Mars. Utilizing NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii (below, left), and the “Gemini South” Telescope in Chile (below, right), Mumma and his team carried out a detailed new infrared survey of the Red Planet early in 2003 … with remarkable result.

Mumma’s preliminary analysis (below) reveals a methane concentration of about 10.5 parts per billion. Under current Martian temperatures and pressures, this translates to about 90,000 tons ….

More intriguing -- unlike Pimental’s Mariner ’69 polar observations, the methane in the current NASA study seems to be concentrated in the equatorial regions of the planet (above) -- the enhanced methane, according to Mumma, being greatest over the two equatorial locations of “anomalous hydrogen” previously localized by the Mars Odyssey GRS experiment (below) –

Precisely the locations of our two projected “ancient tidal oceans” … and (coincidentally?) the sites of the current rover missions. Where one of them has just uncovered robust “ground truth” of a former “ancient salty sea ….”

A few months later, a second team -- this one headed by Vittorio Formisano, of the Institute of Physics and Interplanetary Science in Rome – announced their independent discovery of Martian methane. The new detection was made by the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS), aboard ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft.

According to Formisano, the results were obtained by averaging over 1700 atmospheric scans, made of the planet between January and February, 2004.

Then, a few days later, a third team reported its separate discovery of methane on Mars as well – this time led by Vladimir Krasnopolsky, of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC . Krasnopolsky and his team used the Canada-France-Hawaii 3.6 meter telescope (below, right) to accomplish their detection … again, at about 10.5 parts per billion. The Krasnopolsky team will formally present their results at the European Geophysical Union's meeting in Nice, France, in late April.

Three independent teams … three independent results … all affirming the presence of methane in the current atmosphere of Mars.

So ... what does it mean?

Methane normally has a very limited lifetime, exposed in an atmosphere such as Earth’s or Mars’ – only a few hundred years at best – before it is destroyed from various chemical reactions. Thus, if three teams are detecting methane now on Mars, somehow that means (at the very least) that the methane is being replaced as fast as it is disappearing.

Production mechanisms for methane on Earth (or Mars) are limited, there being essentially only three known sources:

1) volcanic emissions,

2) certain geochemical reactions, and …

3) biological activity.

On Earth, essentially all the methane present in the atmosphere comes from living organisms – either as direct emission by certain species of bacteria (even in the guts of cows!), or as fermentation by bacteria of previously living planet life after it has died. This applies – and is critically important -- even to that methane released through “geological activity,” including volcanism.

As Prof Colin Pillinger, the Open University space scientist behind England ’s Beagle 2 Mars lander explained it:

"This may not say that there's life on Mars, but it doesn't half get close. Whether it is produced by organisms now or from volcanic activity, the primary source of methane is microbes. Most of the natural methane gas released during geological activity on the Earth [volcanism] originally comes from the decomposition of organic matter. On a planet like Mars, methane doesn't hang around so you have to find a way of constantly replenishing it. It is very difficult to produce except from a biological source …"

It is therefore quite probable, based on this terrestrial geological analogy, that the three independent teams’ new methane discovery has one root cause – either present (or past) biological activity on Mars … or both.



Part 2

This is HUGE ….

In the wake of these startling announcements, wide-ranging discussions have erupted across the Internet concerning the source of this new methane. Probably the most authoritative and fact-based of these is currently taking place on a “weblog” known by the whimsical title, “Mainly Martian.”


Another cogent analysis is voiced by “the Mars Society’s” Bob Zubrin. As one would expect, viewpoints on this surprising development differ vociferously – mainly, as to whether the new methane measurements are “geological” or “biological.”

Mariner 7: First Color Far Encounter Mars Image


Fortunately, the scientific test for “biological methane” in this case is elemental: careful measurement of the ratio of carbon isotopes bound with hydrogen, in the methane molecules detected in the Martian atmosphere.

For a variety of reasons, biologically “fixed” carbon has a preference for the lighter isotope – Carbon 12 – over the heavier version also found in nature, Carbon 13. Methane produced by non-biologically processes – such as volcanically heated rocks acting on water vapor and carbon dioxide – does not show any such preferences for Carbon 12. Thus, measurement of this key isotopic ratio in the Mars methane will compelling establish its true origin. Pilinger’s Beagle 2 carried precisely the instrumentation needed to determine the carbon isotope ratios of any methane in the Martian atmosphere. Unfortunately (coincidentally?) - Beagle 2 was lost on entry … and other, similar spacecraft observations are probably years away ….

Curiously, in all of these on-going discussions, none of the participants seem to have noticed Pillinger’s central point (above) -- that in the end (via this one isotopic test), essentially ALL methane released into Earth’s atmosphere is biological … the only difference being “how old were the microbes who originally made it!?” But, since this is true on Earth, one has to now immediately consider the serious scientific possibility – because of the three independent confirmations of methane in Mars current atmosphere -- that Mars also had to have had “an extensive, previous biosphere” – and the methane we are seeing is the natural “seepage” from long-buried deposits of natural oil and gas!


A paper, delivered over four years ago at the 2000 SPIE (International Society for Optical Engineering) Conference in San Diego, from researchers at NASA-Ames, discussed precisely such a theoretical possibility – long before the current methane was announced!

For our own increasingly supported tidal model, these latest methane findings are even further evidence of a very different Mars than the one being currently discussed in any other forum ….

To whit: one telling line in Krasnopolsky’s official methane announcement:

“…methane cannot originate from an extinct [Martian] biosphere, as in the case of ‘natural gas’ on Earth, given the exceeding low limits on organic matter set by the Viking landers and the dry recent history which has been extremely hostile to the macroscopic life needed to generate the gas...”

How would they know!?

This view is obviously based on the strange assumptions that,

a) the Viking results -- at two fixed pinpoints on the Martian surface -- could in any way apply to potentially vast, subterranean reserves of buried organics, all over the rest of Mars; and

b) that current geological reconstructions of Martian history (which currently exclude such buried reservoirs) are even close to 100% accurate.

Neither can be scientifically correct.

If the current methane is not being produced by living organisms, but is “merely” being released into the Martian atmosphere via some low level geological process (volcanism, or earthquake activity – although Mars Odyssey and its IR THEMIS instrument have found NO evidence of current volcanism, anywhere on Mars), then this simple fact is presenting us with a literally revolutionary window on Mars’ ancient history. Because Colin Pillinger is correct: most “geologically released methane” here is ultimately derived from biological sources long-since buried. Because of this well-established fact, these startling new Martian observations have revealed an extraordinary window on an ancient Mars radically different from the Mars we see today -- which in all likelihood had an extensive biological past!

Therefore, with all due respect to Dr. Krasnopolsky and his team (which, curiously, includes “Toby Owen” – the NASA guy who in 1976 originally found “the Face on Mars”), the methane now detected on Mars could well be long-overdue confirmation of a whole new, revolutionary Martian history ….

Where a once-thriving Martian biosphere, containing countless diverse organisms, literally was buried “in an afternoon” … only to reveal its one-time presence and the death throes of an entire, living world in the miniscule emissions of a molecule called “methane.” A faint cry down through the ages from the global grave of countless vanished “Martians” … big and small.

On the other hand, if the methane now being measured is liberated by current life on Mars, then the relatively small amount observed (something on the order of ~90,000 tons in the entire Martian atmosphere), and the calculated rate of its replacement (as little as 300 tons per year to maintain what is observed), definitely means a “less than thriving present Martian biosphere.” Even this observation fits perfectly into our own on-going, catastrophic Mars” scenario:

The accumulating evidence that Mars -- sometime in the last ~100 millions years -- suffered an almost incomprehensible and global cataclysm, leaving the Mars we know completely ravaged, its Southern Hemisphere cratered “wall-to-wall” … and 99.99% of its former biosphere obliterated ….

Because: it’s not an “either/or …. Both scenarios could well be true.

Methane could be produced, today -- by some still surviving, still struggling form of hardy Martian life form -- amazing organisms, adapted to the current “devastated Mars” …

Augmented … by methane from yesterday’s “incomparably richer Mars” … still leaking from an unimaginable planetary tomb. But barring those critical carbon isotope determinations … how can we estimate (at this point) the more probably scenario?

Recent spacecraft observations – particularly those made by the European’s first Mars mission, Mars Express – may already have provided vital clues ….

A few weeks ago, the German HRSC camera aboard Mars Express began returning striking, full-color views of major regions of the planet. One of the areas published on January 23, 2004 was Gusev Crater – the regional Mars location of one of the two JPL rover missions currently exploring Gusev’s ancient floor (dark area, right side of the ellipse, below).

As noted earlier, Gusev -- the site of the current Spirit rover mission -- just “happens” to be the site of one of our two former tidal oceans ... as well as a region of currently enhanced ground ice along the Mars’ equator, as determined by the Mars Odyssey GRS instrument.

What made the Mars Express Gusev image so immediately interesting was the fact that those “dark markings” – the intricate features seen streaking portions of the floor of the 90-mile-wide Crater in the black and white imaging (above) -- in color (below) … were revealed by Mars Express to be various amazing shades of green ….

Reaction to this startling European Gusev image was immediate … and highly controversial:

The blatant “green” indicated to many the distinct possibility of current plant life on the floor of Gusev. Linda Moulton Howe managed something of a scoop, when – shortly after the above Mars Express image was published – she managed to get an on-the-record statement from Michael McKay, Flight Operations Director of the European Space Agency:

“… like the green in the Gusev crater picture … it certainly gives rise to the speculation that there could be algae [there] …. It certainly gives much more weight to such speculation, particularly since here on the Earth's glaciers and [in] the Alps and [at] the North Pole, you can see algae in the ice itself which turns rather a pink color or greeny-grey color. Just tying that observation on the Earth together with things we are starting to see on Mars, certainly adds a bit more weight and people will seriously be thinking about these questions and trying to put some definite answers to them … [emphasis added].


”Remarkably -- right after this extremely leading, extremely provocative statement -- the color of the official Mars Express Gusev image on the German Space Agency web site (below, lower right) was curiously “recalibrated.”

While, simultaneously, the caption on the official ESA site carrying the Gusev “green” image was also altered (below) – with a key line added: “Note the green coloring is an effect of image processing ….”

However, inexplicably … the image on the site (as you can see) … remained UNCHANGED! Which, given that a “recalibrated” version of this same image had just replaced the original on the official German web site, is completely baffling .… Unless..., it was a -- “Don’t’ pay attention to the caption … keep focus on the image …” -- kind of thing.

Our reaction was a bit more direct.

Enterprise published, as a continuation of our previous discussion of NASA’s apparent “inability” to “get the colors right,” a side-by-side comparison of the provocative old/new Mars Express image … and … a “colorized” comparison of the same Gusev region. The latter was unofficially created from official NASA THEMIS data and colorized (from the same data) by space artist and NASA contractor, Don Davis (below).

It was certainly obvious from this particular comparison, that something indeed was/is very wrong with NASA’s Martian colors! As if one needed such comparisons; as can be seen on JPL’s own web site (below) three different color versions of the same Pathfinder surface panorama, attest to “something” going on behind the scenes in NASA ... regarding Mars’ true colors.

Now, even after the officially attempted “correction” on the German web site, on enlargement of the revised Mars Express image (below, right), the wispy streaks were still green – albeit a darker “bluish-green” (with maybe some purple thrown in)! What was truly fascinating was that, strikingly obvious in the new color image, the streaks” emanated directly from the large and small dark crater floors. This visible preference for the wisps to “somehow” want to “interact” with craters was not easily explainable in terms of the prevailing NASA model:

Which still maintains that the sinuous dark features on Gusev’s floor are simply random wind streaks … caused by “lighter Martian dust” being removed by local dust devils from the darker, underlying surface.


In fact, the imaging comparison (above) revealed the opposite:

That the Martian winds are preferentially removing something “dark” from the floors of the “even darker” craters … and depositing it on the plains between these craters -- as the “wispy, blue-green, purple streaks” so evident in the “recalibrated” German image (above, right).

This is where two completely independent Mars observations suddenly came together.

When Spirit landed on the floor of Gusev on January 3rd, one of its first high-resolution surface color images (below, processed by Keith Laney) showed a mysterious “patch of something” lying a few feet from the lander. The nickname the rover Science Team eventually gave this curious surface feature was “the Magic Carpet.”


Even Stephen Squyres, Principal Investigator for the Science Team, described it as,

“… bizarre, really weird" the way in which the crater floor seems to have responded to the dragging of the rover's airbags, which deflated after the lander bounced down onto the surface after being released from its parachute. "I don't understand it," he said. Surface pebbles seem to have been squished into the soil around the lander, which appears like layers of cohesive material.


"It looks like mud, but it can't be mud. It looks like when it is scrunched, it folds up," said Squyres, who added, "This is something I have never seen before …. [emphasis added]."

Notwithstanding Steven Squyres’ public fascination with this remarkable “soil anomaly” – remember, the head of the rover Science Team -- when Spirit descended from its lander a few days later, instead of investigating the “Magic Carpet” close-up with its unique array of instruments, the rover was instead commanded to drive as fast as possible several hundred feet away … to “Bonneville Crater.”

The mystery of the Magic Carpet literally left behind … never to be solved.

But … what if they’re connected?

What if … Mars Express’ new color image of the mysterious “dark streaks” covering sections of the floor of Gusev Crater is somehow “connected” to Spirit’s equally provocative observations on that Crater floor … of the mysterious “Magic Carpet” area. Suppose, that the Spirit images of a “mud-like surface feature” were exactly that – images of Martian mud!? Suppose, that a highly concentrated brine solution lies just under the surface rocks and dust … beneath major sections of this ancient Crater floor!?

After all, this was supposed to be an “ancient crater lake” at one time, wasn’t it?

Then, suppose that, since it was summer at the Gusev site when Spirit landed, this subsurface brine solution had once again seasonally melted … (surface Martian temperatures can be as high as 70 degrees F.) -- creating a layer of literal mud just beneath the surface rocks and dust!

Spirit lands … the airbags drag across this partially wet, very sticky surface, and -- viola! -- Spirit captures the first image of a genuine “mud puddle” on the planet Mars!

So, what has this to do with the “greenish” color and sinuous nature of the streaks -- and their obvious preference for craters …?

If the ”Magic Carpet” was indeed caused by a briny “water table” lying beneath the ancient, dry lake Gusev surface, then every crater in the area – having punched through this surface crust to varying depths – should extend well below this dry and dusty surface … well down into the “brine layer!”


On Earth, such a situation would be tailor made for all varieties of simple (and even complex) plant life to begin to grow – particularly, certain kinds of algae. Some species of terrestrial algae are extremely adapted to highly saline conditions (below), and often reproduce by creating spores, which are then redistributed by local winds, forming other colonies.

At Gusev, if the craters in the area were indeed harboring conditions conducive to some special algae growth – primarily, by extending below the local water table -- then one could easily speculate that as the algae mats within some craters grow in the Martian spring and summer, and ultimately reproduce, their spores are carried by the winds out of the craters ... to form the long, sinuous streaks across the intercrater surfaces observed from orbit!

The “streaks,” then, would simply be more colonies of algae from the craters … spread by algae spores surviving for a time between the crater floors ….

However, deprived of crucial quantities of water and essential nutrients (which, in this scenario, would be concentrated on those crater floors), the migrating algae colonies between the craters quickly die … and decompose. Through this process, they would inevitably release some of their bound organics – the hydrogen, carbon, etc. -- back into the atmosphere … to be seen as significant quantities of methane gas (below).

All of which fit neatly into Mumma’s now observed concentrations of this important biomarker over Gusev and Meridiani Planum – site of our two salty (!), ancient tidal ocean floors.

The fact that salty water would be lying below the current Gusev crater floor, and is apparently still migrating upward toward the surface through evaporation, should not be too surprising; not only does this fit perfectly with our scenario – that, “only” 65 million years ago this was once the site of one of Mars two major planetary oceans – but the immediate soil analysis conducted by the Spirit rover when it descended from the lander found anomalously high concentrations of sulfur (S), sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl) (x-ray spectra below) … all well known evaporate deposits of former salty oceans.


Which brings us back to the curious anticipation of all this by George Pimental … in 1969.

According to a new report, “1969 Mariner 7 IRS: Data Set Recovery and Calibration” (Laurel E. Kirkland, Kenneth C. Herr, Paul B. Forney, and Donald K. Stone):

“In 1969 the Mariner 7 Infrared Spectrometers (IRS) returned a unique set of approximately 140 infrared spectra of the planet Mars covering the wavelength region from 1.8 to 14.4 µm (5550 – 690 cm-1). Meanwhile a third IRS was actively measuring lab spectra of gases, minerals and ices thought to be present on the ‘Red Planet.’ Unfortunately, over the following three decades, all the IRS in flight calibration data, much of the preflight calibration data, and all of the IRS lab data were lost to the planetary science community.

“The IRS spectra contain a wealth of information, but in many ways the data set remains an untouched resource. In main this is because the IRS spectra of Mars were never released in a version calibrated in wavelength and intensity, and because the lab spectra were never released at all. Also, computers have improved to the point that it is now practical to manipulate the data more extensively. Therefore, we desired to recover and calibrate this unique data set.

“We located the original IRS data tapes, recovered the spectra measured of Mars, collected instrument and calibration information from the original IRS team, and proceeded with the calibration [Forney and Kirkland,1997; Kirkland et al., 1998]. Thus for the first time since the 1970's, we have IRS spectra that are calibrated in wavelength and intensity using the original data set and calibration information and expertise from the original IRS team … [emphasis added].”

Unfortunately, at this writing, the only portion of the ‘69 IRS Mars’ data fully recovered and recalibrated is the long-wave section. The short wave data --including those highly controversial lines originally attributed to methane and ammonia -- remain unreexamined ….

What’s remarkable about this story is that, with this crucial calibration data mysteriously missing for over 30 years, no meaningful outside analysis was ever carried out on Pimental’s original Mars spectra, by any other agency or scientist. Thus, what it was that Mariner 7 really saw as it crossed the “dark collar” of the southern Martian pole – especially in light of the three independent teams’ recent, startling “rediscovery” of methane in that atmosphere – remains a 30-year-old mystery ….

Two important additional developments that may have bearing on this mystery have come in recent years. Mars Surveyor has returned striking images since 1997, not only thought by some to represent seasonal growth and decay of large colonies of living microorganisms near the south pole (below, top), other MGS images have been interpreted as revealing even more astonishing biological forms (especially in the view of certain observers, such as Arthur C. Clarke) – entire fields of trees… or bushes … near the southern pole (below, bottom).

Significantly, when Mariner 7 flew by Mars on August 4, 1969, it was the beginning of Martian Spring in the southern hemisphere … precisely when these mysterious dark “spots” are first seen to form around the polar cap …. Is it unreasonable, if these are real microbial colonies, to speculate that they would be giving off significant methane and ammonia during the Mariner ’69 flyby …?

Looking again at the IRS Mars spectrum in comparison with an actual methane calibration spectra (below), one is left to wonder – regardless of his later “recantation,” and curiously “missing” laboratory data to support his reversed views -- if the real “methane on Mars” story didn’t in fact begin with George Pimental … over 30 years ago.


In fact, the complicated story of “hydrocarbon molecules on Mars” – and thus, indirect confirmation of current Martian life forms -- began much earlier ….

In 1956, an astronomer, pioneering infrared studies of solar system objects, William H. Sinton, carried out perhaps the earliest IR Martian survey. Sinton published a preliminary finding of “three absorption bands … likely due to C-H bonds … concentrated over the major dark markings of the planet.” These hydrocarbon bonds he attributed to chlorophyll – the major photo reactive molecule in planet life. Along with “chlorophyll,” Sinton also recorded a suspicious feature near 3.3 microns (below), indicative of … methane.

Later, Sinton (like Pimental years later) would recant his own Martian observations. But, curiously, despite constantly improving technology, there was never any follow up ….

Part 3

Until..., four decades later, another astronomer -- Dr. Serguei Mikhailovich Pershin -- carried out a different search for chlorophyll on Mars. This technique utilized the major quantum leap (over 1950’s IR technology) represented by the Hubble. This is how we described Pershin’s still unnoticed -- but now extremely relevant work (in light of the “new” methane discoveries) -- in an earlier Enterprise paper:

Pershin is a Russian space scientist, who, in 1985, developed a space borne, remote-sensing laser experiment for the 1988 Russian Phobos Mission. In 1996, another of his experiments – a compact aerosol backscattering lidar ("light detection and ranging" laser instrument), capable of measuring the composition of the Martian atmosphere from a balloon or landed spacecraft – won a competition for inclusion by NASA on the ill-fated 1999 Mars Polar Lander Mission. (Pershin’s instrument was the first and only experiment from Russia to be flown on a United States Mars mission.)

“In 1998, Pershin – utilizing narrow-band images taken with the Hubble Telescope, and computer-processing them as multi-spectral band ratios – initiated the first follow-up to Sinton’s controversial observations in forty years … announcing that he’d discovered strong indications of red chlorophyll pigment fluorescence (induced by ultraviolet solar energy) from certain regions of the planet. These curiously enhanced regions (below, far right) were similar to narrow-band enhancements he’d detected in his laboratory laser experiments, using UV lasers as remote sensing tools to excite the chlorophyll emissions from a variety of terrestrial soil samples.

“Pershin’s conclusions, even as a Russian scientist, only loosely associated with NASA, were carefully "politic": that he’d discovered only "relic organic pigments… from potentially former living organisms ….", but not evidence of current Martian life. In truth, raw ultraviolet light reaching the Martian surface would quickly destroy any exposed [truly ancient] "fossil chlorophyll." So, if Pershin’s results are valid, they have to be produced by living organisms!”

Well, almost living ….

In fact, after further calculation, even when a chlorophyll-bearing plant died on Mars (assuming in this scenario such organisms exist), there would ensue an uncertain period of time -- years, perhaps even decades -- when that chlorophyll would remain essentially intact; even raw solar ultraviolet light would take significant time to eradicate all traces of the molecule – especially, if evolution in a higher UV background (Mars?) had incorporated additional molecules around the chlorophyll, to precisely inhibit such destructive radiation to a living plant.

Thus..., if the “fossil Martian chlorophyll” Pershin conclusively detected just six years ago from Hubble, was indeed from “former living organisms” -- perhaps from living plant life dead only a comparatively brief period – then the Russian astronomer could easily have measured some surviving “relic chlorophyll” … still unaltered, and localized in the classic “dark regions” (once the most densely living) of the planet.

But, how could this be possible? How could vast stretches of once living vegetation, on an entire planet, so rapidly die off … that -- just before the coming of the “space age” -- Mars had literally “died!?”

The answer is: in this scenario, it didn’t “die” -- but just went into a cyclic “seasonal suspended animation” … until a new “coming Martian Spring” ….

One of the increasingly enigmatic Martian observations, made by the unprecedented “fleet” of unmanned spacecraft currently sending back extraordinary data, is compelling news that -- before our eyes – Mars has changed … is changing. The evidence is most compelling: multiple images – from Viking, Mars Odyssey and Mars Surveyor – all showing unmistakable signs of major climate change … now occurring across Mars.

The examples range from, side-by-side comparisons of literal melting (and disappearance) of key features at the Martian poles between 1999 and 2001 (below),

-- to, increasing evidence that the ground ice in certain equatorial regions we first predicted -- based on our Mars Tidal Model -- is also melting … creating dark and mysterious surface features we believe are intimately connected, which we originally discovered in 2000 (below), now called “stains” or “seeps.” Originally dismissed by NASA scientists as merely “avalanches,” recent scientific journal papers on these features have finally admitted possible involvement of liquid water, and reported significant new developments:

The number of “stains” (officially called “streaks”) imaged by the two currently operating NASA orbital spacecraft over Mars is rapidly increasing – and, at an accelerating rate! According to the authors of one paper:

“… either there is a complete turnover within a few decades or the streak population is currently increasing rapidly. Large spatial, as well as possible temporal, variations in the formation rate are obtained from these data. Streaks do not appear to fade over time periods comparable to their inverse formation rate of ~28 years, as seen by analysis of Viking Orbiter images containing streaks that are still visible in MOC images [emphasis added].

In other words …. Mars is melting!!

Mainstream models notwithstanding -- which predicate prior episodes of global climate warming based on calculated changing obliquity shifts (axis tilts) of Mars -- there is no current shift in the spin axis of the plane! Thus, there is no scientific explanation in the mainstream NASA view to account for an obvious and global “global warming” currently taking place on Mars. There is, however, our own Hyperdimensional Energy Model – which predicts precisely what we’re seeing in the NASA images ….

In 2002 we wrote a short paper – “Global Warming on Mars? - The Hyperdimensional Connection” -- summarizing a range of these examples. While some may argue with specific images, the consensus even among mainstream planetary scientists looking at the data coming down from Mars Odyssey and Mars Surveyor is that Mars – for unknown reasons – is definitely warming up.

Some examples, presented side-by-side with equivalent satellite imaging from Earth, are simply striking: such as this comparison (below) -- between the famous “Great Salt Lake” in Utah and an eerily similar, very liquid-looking and deepening Mars “Lake Laney” (so named by us, because Keith did the image processing of the original Odyssey color data). For those who still believe (ala the earlier Mariner fly-bys) that large bodies of liquid, standing water on Mars are currently impossible, we simply refer you to recently published laboratory work indicating just the opposite!

Finally, the imaging OMEGA spectrometer on Mars Express (below) revealed a surprising (and apparently significantly larger) quantity of water ice at the Martian southern pole -- far more than previous missions, going back to Mariner 69, had indicated. If the planet is indeed warming, and on a timescale of only decades, this would be one of the earliest indicators … as the water released via increasing ground temperatures melting the ground ice from the two former equatorial oceans in summer, in the winter would migrate to the poles and fall as ordinary snow, thus increasing the observable water ice on the surface of the polar ice caps.

So, what does this all mean?

If the current methane observations are indeed evidence of living Martian organisms, it is more than likely that they are the surviving remains of a once flourishing, far more complex Martian ecosystem. But, even if the methane is not from living microbes now -- as has been noted previously, the source is more than likely due to venting of long-buried methane pockets, created by that same extensive Martian biosphere … before whatever catastrophe ensued ….

Either way, in the Tidal Model, the now confirmed “rediscovery” of methane opens the door to unprecedented possibilities for an entire “living Mars” … including - that Mars could once have been a home … to ancient “Martians.”

If Mars is significantly warming -- as the various independent lines of accumulating evidence seem strongly to confirm -- it is on an impossibly short time scale according to any current NASA calculation. It is therefore at least a possibility that these observed changes are due to the larger, solar-system-wide, Hyperdimensional Physics we’ve previously identified … that is also definitely changing (we shall be publishing an entire, more definitive paper on this important development in the near future).

All this means that another “Martian Spring” – for whatever life forms are remaining – could be coming ….

It means that the “distinct and repeating Martian seasons” … the annual “waves of darkening, emanating alternately from each pole” ... and the “dark areas turning an unmistakable blue-green each Martian spring” -- all observed and carefully recorded by the giants of 19th century astronomy, Schiaparelli, Lowell, Antoniadi and the rest -- are possibly returning ….

Including..., the startling possibility that the most well known marker of this 19th Century Mars -- its infamous “canals” -- may also have been real all along ….

This is how Lowell described them in 1908, in "Mars, As The Abode of Life":

"There are celestial sights more dazzling, spectacles that inspire more awe, but to the thoughtful observer who is privileged to see them well, there is nothing in the sky so profoundly impressive as these canals of Mars. Fine lines and little gossamer filaments only, cobwebbing the face of the Martian disc, but threads to draw one’s mind after them across the millions of miles of intervening void …”

It now seems possible, because of this “coming Martian Spring,” that even that most mysterious of all the Martian puzzles recorded just decades ago – which seemed to completely vanish once the Space Age dawned, much to the derision of Lowell and the other 19th Century astronomers who saw them -- may also become visible … again.

In the summer of 2000, immediately following a “major NASA briefing” detailing evidence of recent water flows in some areas of Mars, we proposed a striking alternative explanation: that the curious features indicated by the NASA team were, in fact, caused by nothing less than “surface leaks from the deterioration and decay of a vast, underground, artificial water transport system.” In part we said:

“… if you have pipes, and you run water through them, what happens when the temperature gets too low?

“The pipes burst!

“This is why the water is being found in the cold regions pointing away from the sun. Because a system designed for use in a much warmer epoch (maybe only tens of thousands of years ago) is failing when the temperature causes the pipes to expand and burst. This is why the water is being found out of the sun and toward the poles! Because the sun is keeping the water in a liquid, flowing state closer to the equator.

“The implications of this are vast. So are the stakes ….”

Less than a month later, we discovered our first “seep-- apparent liquid water … leaking from “some source underground.”

Only a few days before that, we had made perhaps our most significant technological discovery on Mars since the Face itself: a huge, obvious underground glass tunnel – partially unearthed (below). Its scale alone – almost a thousand feet wide, and several miles in length – was a major clue that this might in fact be a component of nothing less than Lowell ’s ancient irrigation system of “canals” ….

In other regions, several “glass tunnels” (and their associated geometric infrastructure) seem to parallel each other – after also being partially unearthed (below).

Here, in the “grandest canyon” in the solar system – Vallis Marineris – another partially exhumed tunnel can be seen (below) -- branching in a familiar “Y” at the joining of two previously separated sections (below, left)

Putting all these “dots” together:

It now seems quite possible that what we discovered in the summer of 2000 – from clear evidence of leaking water, to the multiple examples of the obvious means of transporting enormous quantities of that water across great Martian distances … underground – could finally explain this most lingering of mysteries about the Red Planet: its infamous network of canals.

But how, you might appropriately ask, could an ancient underground engineering system create visible features on the surface – ostensibly seen (and drawn) by 19th Century astronomers? How indeed ….

If the Martian climate can indeed undergo drastic cyclic variations, and on a timescale of mere decades, there is the distinct possibility that these mysterious surface features are also part of such a living cycle. That these enigmatic “linear formations” are recreated each Martian “spring” by living surface vegetation … growing directly over the massive, buried planetary network of an “ancient, now leaking, high-tech water transport system” – composed of our glass tunnels.

In the March, 2004 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine, Thomas Dobbins and William Sheehan present a fascinating new case for some of the classical “Lowellian canals” seemingly returning … their being objectively recorded during the 2003 Closest Approach -- by the unprecedented CCD and webcam electronic imaging technology now available to amateur astronomers world wide. As can be seen (below), a comparison of one of Lowell ’s old planetary charts from 1895 and a modern webcam image from 2003, reveal an amazing degree of commonality ... for a supposed “figment” of Lowell ’s imagination!

[Elsewhere, Eric Lausch (under the nome de plume of “Johnny Danger”) has written a thoughtful, highly cogent and extensive analysis titled “Lowell’s Legacy,” on just what our ancient, buried tunnel network, in the coming “Martian Spring,” might mean. I strongly recommend it, in the present context ….]

These exciting possibilities -- with strong hints of many more to come (remember: Mars Express carries the MARSIS radar, which can detect not only underground pools of liquid water 3 miles below the surface … but surface pools as well) -- create a totally revolutionary context for the “new” methane observations of the last few days ... that “Martian Spring” may indeed have come again.

And, if Spring is coming … in light of the earlier Mariner ’69 foreshadowing, in light of the President’s recent annunciation of a “grander vision” for humanity itself -- can a similar season of “renewal and reawakening” in Washington be far behind … concerning other “Martian revelations” …?