How did you get interested in the Face on Mars controversy?
I've always had an innate interest in the prospect of extraterrestrial life. When I realized that there was an actual scientific inquiry regarding the Face and associated formations, I realized that this was a potential chance to lift SETI from the theoretical arena; it's within our ability to visit Mars in person. This was incredibly exciting, and it inspired an interest in Mars itself -- its geological history, climate, et cetera.
What is your background?
I have a BA in Creative Writing. So of course there are those who will happily disregard my book because I'm not "qualified." I suppose my question is "Who *is* qualified to address potential extraterrestrial artifacts?" Certainly not JPL, whose Mars exploration timetable is entirely geology-driven.
We direly need to rethink how we practice SETI; in that spirit, "After the Martian Apocalypse" can be read as an editorial or manifesto.
For readers unfamiliar with the story of the Face and Mars and associated structures, what is the background to it, how was the face first identified, when, and who by?
The first two objects to attract attention were the Face and the "D&M Pyramid," both unearthed by digital imaging specialists Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar. Their research was published in "Unusual Martian Surface Features"; shortly after, Richard Hoagland pointed out a collection of features near the Face which he termed the "City."
NASA itself discovered the Face and even showed it at a press conference after it had been photographed by the Viking mission in the 1970s. Of course, it was written off as a curiosity. Scientific analysis would have to await independent researchers.
When and how did the controversy really start?
When NASA dismissed the Face as a "trick of light," they cited a second, discomfirming photo allegedly taken at a different sun-angle. This photo never existed.
DiPietro and Molenaar had to dig through NASA archives to find a second image of the Face -- and, far from disputing the face-like appearance, it strengthened the argument that the Face remained face-like from multiple viewing angles.
What were/are the primary theories of the leading independent researchers?
The prevailing alternative to NASA's geological explanation -- that the Face and other formations are natural landforms -- is that we're seeing extremely ancient artificial structures built by an unknown civilization.
What does NASA say about the controversy?
NASA chooses to ignore that there is a controversy, or at least a controversy in the scientific sense. Since making the Face public in the 1970s, NASA has made vague allusions to humans' ability to "see faces" (e.g. the "Man in the Moon") and has made lofty dismissals, but it has yet to launch any sort of methodical study of the objects under investigation. Collectively, NASA frowns on the whole endeavor. Mainstream SETI theorists are equally hostile.
Basically, the Face -- if artificial -- doesn't fall into academically palatable models of how extraterrestrial intelligence will reveal itself, if it is in fact "out there." Searching for radio signals is well and good, but scanning the surface of a neighboring planet for signs of prior occupation is met with a very carefully cultivated institutionalized scorn. And of course it doesn't help that some of the proponents of the Face have indulged in more than a little baseless "investigation."
What are your views/conclusions?
I think some of the objects in the Cydonia region of Mars are probably artificial. And I think the only way this controversy will end is to send a manned mission. The features under investigation are extremely old and warrant on-site archaeological analysis. We've learned -- painfully -- that images from orbiting satellites won't answer the fundamental questions raised by the Artificiality Hypothesis.
Do you believe all the perceived anomalous structures are indeed that or do you feel some are of natural origin while some are of unnatural origin?
I suspect that we're seeing a fusion of natural geology and megascale engineering. For example, the Face is likely a modified natural mesa, not entirely unlike some rock sculptures on Earth but on a vastly larger and more technically challenging scale.
What are your views on the idea that some more recent images appear to show signs of vegetation?
The Mars Global Surveyor has taken images of anomalous branching objects that look for all the world like organic phenomena. Arthur C. Clarke, for one, is sold on the prospect of large forms of life on Mars, and has been highly critical of JPL's silence.
Can you expand on this - theories as to what sort of vegetation (if indeed that is what it is), the areas it has been seen in, implications.
Clarke's most impressive candidates are what he has termed "banyan trees" near the planet's south pole. And he collaborated with Mars researcher Greg Orme in a study of similar features NASA has termed "black spiders" -- root-like formations that suggest tenacious macroscopic life.
Is there a relationship between the face and the pyramids and similar in Egypt? What does the research community think of this perceived connection?
There's a superficial similarity between some of the alleged pyramids in the vicinity of the Face and the better-known ones here on Earth. This has become the stuff of endless arcane theorizing, and I agree with esoteric researchers that some sort of link between intelligence on Mars and Earth deserves to be taken seriously.
But the formations on Mars are much, much larger than terrestrial architecture. This suggests a significantly different purpose, assuming they're intelligently designed. Richard Hoagland, to my knowledge, was the first to propose that the features in Cydonia might be "arcologies" -- architectural ecologies -- built to house a civilization that might have retreated underground for environmental reasons.
If these things are artificial, who built them? Martians? Someone visiting Mars? Ancient earth civilizations now forgotten/lost to history?
It's just possible that the complex in Cydonia (and potential edifices elsewhere on Mars) were constructed by indigenous Martians. Mars was once extremely Earth-like. We know it had liquid water. It's perfectly conceivable that a civilization arose on Mars and managed to build structures within our ability to investigate.
Or the anomalies might be evidence of interstellar visitation -- perhaps the remains of a colony of some sort. But why a humanoid face? That's the disquieting aspect of the whole inquiry; it suggests that the human race has something to do with Mars, that our history is woefully incomplete, that our understanding of biology and evolution might be in store for a violent upheaval.
In retrospect, I regret not spending more time in the book addressing the possibility that the Face was built by a vanished terrestrial civilization that had achieved spaceflight. That was a tough notion to swallow, even as speculation, as it raises as many questions as it answers.
Is there any way to determine when they were built (if they were built)?
We need to bring archaeological tools to bear on this enigma. When that is done, we can begin reconstructing Martian history. Until we visit in person, all we can do is take better pictures and continue to speculate.
What are your theories as to how Mars - if it once was home to intelligent life - was transformed into a dead world?
Astronomer Tom Van Flandern has proposed that Mars was once the moon of a tenth planet that literally exploded in the distant past. If so, then the explosion would have had severe effects on Mars, probably rendering it uninhabitable. That's once rather apocalyptic scenario. Another is that Mars' atmosphere was destroyed by the impact that produced the immense Hellas Basin.
Both ideas are fairly heretical by current standards; mainstream planetary science is much more comfortable with Mars dying a slow, prolonged death. Pyrotechnic collisions simply aren't intellectually fashionable -- despite evidence that such things are much more commonplace than we'd prefer.
What is the truth behind the questions about the amount of water that might be present on Mars?
Simply: Mars has water. It's been found underground, frozen. If we melted all of it we'd have an ankle-deep ocean enveloping the entire planet. I predict we will find more of it.
Is it possible that anything of substance still lives there beyond some vegetation?
Vegetation implies herbivores . . .
What prompted you to write the book?
Anger. I was frankly fed up with bringing the subject of the Face on Mars up in online discussion and finding myself transformed into a straw man for self-professed experts. It was ludicrous. The book is a thought experiment, a mosaic of questions. We don't have all of the answers, but the answers are within our reach.
Is the research community open-minded or biased as to what the face may be? For example, are the believers open to the idea that they could be wrong and vice versa with NASA etc?
Frustratingly, this has become very much an "us vs. them" issue, and I blame both sides. The debunkers have ignored solid research that would undermine their assessment, and believers are typically quite pompous that NASA et al are simply wrong or, worse, actively covering up.
What do you hope the book will achieve?
I hope "After the Martian Apocalypse" will loosen the conceptual restraints that have blinkered radio-based SETI by showing that the Face on Mars is more than collective delusion or wishful thinking. This is a perfectly valid scientific inquiry and demands to be treated as such.
What surprised you most of all when doing the research?
Our attitudes toward the form extraterrestrial intelligence will take are painfully narrow. This is exciting intellectual territory, and too many of us have allowed ourselves to be told what to expect by an academically palatable elite. I find this massively frustrating.
Do you feel there is a conspiracy within Govt/Nasa re the Face and the associated structures to either hide data, confuse the truth, or actively destroy pictures etc? If yes even remotely, why?
When NASA/JPL released the first Mars Global Surveyor image of the Face in 1998, they chose to subject the image to a high-pass filter that made the Face look hopelessly vague. This was almost certainly done as a deliberate attempt to nullify public interest in a feature that the space agency is determined to ignore.
So yes, there is a cover-up of sorts. But it's in plain view for anyone who cares to look into the matter objectively. I could speculate endlessly on the forms a more nefarious cover-up might take -- and I come pretty close in the book -- but the fact remains that the Surveyor continues to return high-resolution images.
Speculation -- and even some healthy paranoia -- are useful tools. But we need to stay within the bounds of verifiable fact lest we become the very conspiracy-mongering caricatures painted by the mainstream media.