Sunday, February 15, 2009

Redefining SETI: The case for Martian archaeology

Few subjects within the astronomical community have aroused as much scorn as the 1976 discovery of a face-like formation in the Cydonia Mensae region of Mars. The now-iconic "Face on Mars" has become the source of endless derision among mainstream scientists. Uninitiated readers are typically assured that the unusual feature is a naturally occurring hill (or mountain, or butte, or "pile of rocks," depending on the debunker's bias). To be sure, the face may well prove to be natural. But I've always been disturbed by the divisive climate that's surrounded the subject -- and not a little frustrated by the factual mistakes made by self-proclaimed "skeptics" who should know better. Far from being a dead issue, the face and its seldom-remarked associated anomalies constitute a novel challenge that has yet to be taken seriously except by a relative handful of curious agnostics.

My previous post emphasized the need for archaeologists if "planetary SETI" is to contend with its radio-based predecessor. After all, if we find candidate artifacts on other worlds, it's likely they'll be extremely old. Mars, blanketed by dust and pocked with craters, is hardly an ideal location for preserving artificial structures. Although not as corrosive as Earth, the Red Planet boasts scars that hint at a geologically active past; anything constructed during Mars' tenure as a "living" planet is likely to have endured many of the same processes that have sculpted the planet into the wasteland we see today. If so, how tenable are NASA's casual dismissals of potential Martian artifacts?

When the face was reimaged in 1998, debunkers condescendingly noted the lack of "roads" and parked "flying saucers" that would conclusively demonstrate artificiality. But given Mars' age and geological history, superficial features like "roads" would be the last things one might reasonably expect to find -- unless, of course, Mars was home to an active alien civilization with a penchant for terrestrial architecture.

The fact that virtually no one seriously considered Mars to be home to an extant civilization was brushed aside to accommodate the skeptical community's need to shoot down the looming myth that the face has become in the decades since it was first photographed. Sadly, the opportunity to address the issue of extraterrestrial archaeology in scientific terms was squandered, leaving a residue of misconceptions that only fueled the "fringe's" obsession with conspiracy theories.

Fortunately, there's no reason we can't take up the case for unbiased, disciplined appraisal of candidate Martian artifacts. In future posts I'll explore options and possibilities that may lead the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in some unexpected directions.

This piece originally appeared at


Carter said...

Hi Mac!
I like your Blog.
About the face : an Astronomer once said that Mars doesn't have enough Mass and therefore a too weak gravity to hold an Earth-like Atmosphere.
Which, of course doesn't rule out hypothetical Beings which don't need an Atmosphere- but it makes things more difficult.

Mac said...

While Mars doesn't have an Earth-like atmosphere right now, the evidence suggests that it once did. So we can't automatically exclude the possibility that Mars developed a complex biosphere before losing its atmosphere later in its history.

*How*, exactly, Mars lost its atmosphere is a matter of some controversy; it might have been gradual or it might have been catastrophic.

Cialis Online said...

I think that many more studies and pictures should be made regarding comparing rocks with humanoid or shaped beings.