Last Updated 10/12/03 00:27

The Mars Files

 
When NASA's Viking 1 spacecraft [below right] orbited Mars on 25th July 1976, whilst searching for a suitable area for the next Mars landing, it photographed a region called Cydonia - a region of Mars which is comparatively free of craters and is made up of rocky mesas. When the photographs were released to the public, one in particular - No.035A72 - attracted a lot of interest on a global basis. This particular photograph of one of Cydonia's many mesas had a striking resemblance to a human face with headdress.
Some people even speculated that it was not a natural rock formation at all but an artificial construction or monument, which was perhaps built by beings from elsewhere in the galaxy.  Some suggested that it was constructed by human beings - from sometime in the future.
Further to this, claims were made that analysis of the Cydonia photograph showed the existence of pyramids, a fortress and a collection of structures - purported to be evidence of a town or city. 
Needless to say, NASA gave no credence at all to these weird theories and on 5th April 1998 the Mars Global Surveyor, whilst orbiting Mars, took images of Cydonia at ten times the resolution of the original photos. The high resolution images showed the "Face of Cydonia" to be nothing more than a natural feature.

The original NASA Viking photo showing the "Face" on Mars. Overall the "Face" measures about one and a half miles wide and one and a quarter miles long.

A computer enhanced image of the "Face".

Geographical features on the surface of Mars - some claim that they are "pyramids".

 

A "Martian pyramid" ?

The "Face" photographed in 1998 by the Mars Global Surveyor in 1998.

 

However, the discussions and arguments regarding the existence of (recent) life on Mars continue and some of the images received from craft orbiting the planet do warrant explanation. Some images seem to indicate plant life, others some form of animal life and some illustrate geometric patterns.

 

  Unexplained photo's - on the surface of Mars    

 

Could this be form of plant life?

Could this be form of plant life?

 

A segmented, tubular "object" - on Mars

An object that seems to have a perfect circular hole in it - on Mars.

     

Update 30th May 2003.

BBC NEWS (UK)
Historic Mars lander 'did find life'

By Helen Briggs  BBC News Online science reporter

Claims have re-emerged that the US space agency (Nasa) did find signs of life on Mars during the historic Viking landings of 1976.
Dr Gil Levin, a former mission scientist, says he now has the evidence to prove it, just days before the US and Europe send new expeditions to the Red Planet.
The United States and Russia have spent billions since the 1960s on a handful of space craft designed to land on Mars. Only three have succeeded so far: the two Viking probes in the 1970s and Mars Pathfinder in 1997. In 1976, the world was gripped by excitement when a robotic spacecraft touched down on Mars for the first time in history. Biology experiments detected strange signs of activity in the Martian soil - akin to microbes giving off gas.

Before announcing the news that life had been found on another planet, Nasa carried out more tests to look for evidence of organic matter.
However, the Viking experiments failed to find this essential stuff of life and it was concluded that Mars was a dead planet. Dr Levin, one of three scientists on the life detection experiments, has never given up on the idea that Viking did find living micro-organisms in the surface soil of Mars.
Beagle [ below ]is looking for life He continued to experiment and study all new evidence from Mars and Earth, and, in 1997, reached the conclusion and published that the so-called LR (labelled release) work had detected life. He says new evidence is emerging that could settle the debate, once and for all.
He told BBC News Online: "The organic analysis instrument was shown to be very insensitive, requiring millions of micro-organisms to detect any organic matter versus the LR's demonstrated ability to detect as few as 50 micro-organisms."

Dr Levin, now president and CEO of US biotechnology company Biospherix, has a new experiment that he says "could unambiguously settle the argument".

But it was rejected by both Nasa and the European Space Agency (Esa) to go on-board this summer's Mars missions.
The British-built Beagle 2, which will be deposited on the Martian surface by Esa's Mars Express space craft, is going with the main purpose to hunt for life. This is a risky strategy, claims Dr Levin.
"Strangely, despite its billing, Beagle 2 carries no life detection experiment!" he said. "Neither its GCMS (organic detector) which is claimed to be more sensitive than Viking's, nor its isotopic analysis instrument can provide evidence for living organisms."

The surface of Mars as seen by Viking 11 Lander.

Nasa's mission to Mars is taking a more circumspect approach to the big life question. Its two identical rovers will roam the ancient plains of Mars acting as robot geologists. Mark Adler, deputy mission manager, said the main science objective was to understand the water environment of Mars not to search for life.
He told BBC News Online: "What we learnt from Viking is that it is very difficult to come up with specific experiments to look for something you don't really know what to look for."
Claims of life on Mars have always proved highly contentious. Twenty years after Viking, microbe-like structures discovered inside a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica led to more claims that were later rejected.
As the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And there is no reason to believe that anything found this time will be any different.
"It's going to take a number of missions if we want to know whether there is life on Mars or not," said Dr Charles Cockell, a Mars biologist at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridgeshire, UK.
"If we find no evidence of life on Mars it may just mean we have looked in the wrong place."

 

An intriguing photo taken of the surface of Mars - but with a simple explanation - Wind blows through this north polar region of Mars from the lower right toward the upper left, crafting dusty dunes with steep slopes that point in the direction the wind blows. The dunes are illuminated by sunlight from the upper right. The image covers and area about 1.9 miles (3 kilometres) wide.

click on image for larger size


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