With Mars set to be closer to Earth in 2005 than anytime until the year 2018, skywatchers are gearing up for a great view. As the world prepares to gaze yet again at the red planet, it's a good time to reflect on the incredible history of false impressions surrounding the most Earth-like planet we know of.
Some quick background: This is from a Space.com article. So you think you know what's coming. Or at least I did. It went something like:
"In 1976 the Viking mission photographed what vaguely resembled a humanoid face staring up from the Martian surface. Although conclusively dismissed as an illusion by NASA scientists, the so-called 'Face' on Mars was championed by conspiracy theorists such as Richard Hoagland, who maintained the visage was a monument built by little green men in the remote past."
But wait! This article includes no mention of the Face! What the hell is going on here? After dousing myself in cold water and rereading the article, I'm left with two alternatives:
1.) The usual suspects at Space.com succumbed to the will to believe. They're now devout Face enthusiasts and are now, as I type, probably doting over copies of "After the Martian Apocalypse" and scanning the evening sky for UFOs.
Or, more likely:
2.) The writers at Space.com are so besieged with angry email every time they attempt to scotch the Face that they've thrown in the towel. Sure, they still think it's baloney that deserves to be righteously smeared at every available opportunity, but why bother? After all, there's no arguing with True Believers. Better to pretend the Face simply doesn't exist; citing it as evidence of anything -- even "debunked" evidence -- just isn't worth the time.
Besides, Seth Shostak's on the phone and he's threatening not to submit anymore anti-UFO articles until a sizeable donation is made to the SETI Institute.
(Thanks to Peter A. Gersten.)