Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Mars: A History of False Impressions

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.)

7 comments:

W.M. Bear said...

"Nowadays we know the canals don't exist ...."

But Schiaparelli's canali do. There are a host of outflow "channels" from the past presence of flowing water on Mars, so poor old "debunked" Percival Lowell wasn't too far off after all. (Though whether S. had enough resolving power to see these very real channels is an open question, though I do wish someone in one of these articles would point this possibilty out. Also, some later astronomers DID see Lowell's canals and even "verified" his maps, even though the canals turned out to be optical illusions. And Lowell wasn't nearly as stupid as the canali-canal translation error makes him out to be. Moreover, it was at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, which he founded that Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. Typical snide Space.com article all in all.)

Carol said...

Maybe it's kind of hard to throw around snide labels of "conspiracy theorists" when at the moment Tom DeLay is being indicted for.... [tah-DAH!]...conspiracy.

Maybe having used "earthlings" and "nowadays" for that faux folksy touch, he'd dumbed down his article so far that nobody still reading it would understand subtleties of Face-bashing.

Maybe having used half his 800 words for the timeline, he was worried that anything longer would be a real article rather than what any other publication would consider filler.

Maybe he was so worried that someone would dig out the 2003 article to see how much he'd recycled from it, that he just forgot to mention the Face.

Maybe there's a union of anti-Face writers, and they are going on strike for more real estate? Hey,
SETI Institute is not shy about shameless solicitation of real estate donations, surely eclipsing anything earned by planetary SETI writers

http://www.seti.org/site/pp.asp?c=ktJ2J9MMIsE&b=178875

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