Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review of 'Ancient Aliens on the Red Planet'

        At 09:20 in the commercial-free version of this latest History Channel travesty (S6E16), we see a region of Mars clearly labeled CYDONIA, and to make things perfectly clear, a flashing target over the spot. The narration is:

"The Cydonia region of Mars. July 20th, 1976. (CUT to animation of spacecraft approaching) An alien spacecraft, sent from Earth, touches down on the Red Planet. After a ten-month journey, Viking 1 has reached its destination." (CUT to historical footage at JPL, Gentry Lee and Gerry Soffen celebrating the success of Viking 1)

        I blinked, and re-ran the sequence to be quite sure. Then my face hit the desk (OK, metaphorically.) OMG, THEY THINK VIKING 1 LANDED AT CYDONIA!!!

source: Google Mars

FACT: Cydonia is at 40.74N, 9.46W. Viking 1 landed at Chryse Planitia, 22.46N, 47.96W.

        This appalling error takes Ancient Aliens to new depths of ignorance and mendacity. Jason Colavito has also reviewed the episode on his blog, and he makes a far better job of reviewing the monstrous errors in history and mythology than I possibly could, so please read it.

        In the Twitterscape, Mike Bara complained for the second time in a week that he'd been deprived of due credit:

        That may be how he remembers it now, but if you read Mike Bara's own account of the Enterprise Mission analysis of the Pathfinder images, written at the time, it's pretty plain that it was Guiseppe Pezzella who first pointed out the so-called sphinx.

        Bara's first complaint was over Richard Hoover being invited to the Open Minds International UFO Congress to talk about the controversial discovery of microbiology in a Martian meteorite -- work that Bara claims was his. Does Mike have an electron microscope in his kitchen, I wonder? He sniped at Maureen Elsberry, the congress organiser, and I loved Maureen's reply. "Mike, get over yourself."

        It's certainly true that a casual viewer would have got the idea that John Brandenburg came up with the "sphinx on Mars" fairy story. An elaborate sequence with Giorgio Tsoukalos and some models floated the preposterous idea that the "Twin Peaks" visible from the Mars Pathfinder landing site are a close analogy of the pyramids of Giza. The fact is that the Twin Peaks are nothing like pyramids and the mound Hoagland & Bara (and Brandenburg) have called the sphinx is not like a sphinx at all. And it faces North, not due East as Bara wrote in his nasty book.note 1 Here are high-res stereo pairs of Twin Peaks, the "sphinx," and other dark blocky outcrops showing that there's nothing special about the sphinxy rock.

photo credit: History Channel

        Predictably enough, Bara trotted out further fairy stories including several that this blog has discredited in fairly recent memory. The Viking Labeled Release experiment (and it was nice to see Dr. Gil Levín tell the story himself here), and the canard that Gerry Soffen lied about the second image of the so-called Face at Owen Mesa (see also this post.)

        Richard Hoagland, inventor of the Face at Cydonia (and much other balderdash besides) was conspicuous by his absence. Mike Bara said -- again, in Twitterstan -- that he'd  turned down the offer to appear on this show. I bet what really happened was that he said he'd love to be on the show but he'd want to  be credited as co-producer and he'd want first-class travel for him and his companion. His arrogance is such that he even talks himself out of opportunities to put his ego (and his disregard for truth) on parade.


[1] Brandenburg speculated that, even if the Twin Peaks don't look like pyramids now, maybe they did when they were built, and millions of years of erosion has reduced them to the pitiful state we see now. The same thing has been claimed for the 'Face', too, and it's what is known in logic as argumentum ad excremetum torii. It's basically taking a desperate hope, unsupported by anything, and dressing it up to look like evidence. He also trotted out his theory about Xenon 129/132 ratios, "proving" that there was a nuclear war on Mars once. Stuart Robbins disposed of that one a year ago.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mike Bara gets it wrong at Conscious Life

        Appearing on the Ancient Aliens panel at the recent Conscious Life Expo in Los Angeles, Mike Bara spent most of his allotted time simply plugging his horrible books and his laughable TV shows.

        He did, however, jump in when somebody in the audience asked about the mysterious right-angle feature on the Moon. This was first noticed by a vlogger called wowforreeel, then reported by HuffPo. It's the same one Stuart Robbins asked me about when he interviewed me for his 100th podcast. Here's the image wowforreeel noticed:

        Now here's the crater as seen by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's narrow angle camera. The sun angle is almost the opposite of what it was for the Google Moon image.

 Here it is with brightness reduced and contrast boosted a bit.

          It's at 22.6900°N, 142.6134°E and here's a permalink to the LRO map.

In his remarks, Mike Bara got just about everything wrong as usual. It starts at 12:55 on this video.

"Yeah, it's interesting. They're pixel artifacts I think at this point. They're digital artifacts from the way Google Moon compresses everything. But it's really interesting because if you look at that crater, that crater actually has -- if you look at high-resolution pictures of it -- it actually has, like, a chevron type shape. To me it's a chevron shape, right? It has that embedded in it and that's really unusual because the reality is, every crater on the Moon should be circular. How do you get that? Oh they have all these complex theories about the underlying bedrock -- you know, cooled in a certain way, but it just doesn't... it looks a little weird. It looks like there's some weird stuff going on there, and you've gotta understand... this is the back side, where I found some really interesting stuff, and also the fact is is that what they... They have limited resources on all these orbiters. So if they're taking really high resolution images of the area -- which they did of that particular area -- Google Earth doesn't give you them, it compresses it a little bit. They were interested in something there. That's why they took the picture. I mean there's this thing... I had a big dispute with people last year, it was in Ancient Aliens on the Moon, I called it the Daedalus Ziggurat. [It] looks like a ziggurat, near the crater Daedalus on the back side of the Moon. And -- you know -- they tried to photograph it with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It's funny 'cos the guys were saying I'm full of it... I'm full of shit is what they were saying. You know, they're like "Well yeah we tried to take a picture of this area" well they missed it. Either they missed it or they didn't show us that part of the photograph, but they tried to take a picture of it, so that tells you there's something interesting there, otherwise they wouldn't be wasting the orbiter resources on it."

How doth Mike Bara err? Let me count the ways.

* The artifact is from mosaicing (also called stitching,) not compression. Update: That may not be as wrong as I thought when I first wrote it. A credible theory by Mick West (see comments below) ascribes this phenom to a badly-applied sharpening algorithm.

* The crater is not chevron-shaped.

* There is nothing "weird" about it.

* No, every crater on the Moon does not have to be circular. Craters are elongated  if the angle of impact is small. Lunar terrain sometimes shifts because of volcanism. Check out this baby.

* The reference to "Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter" was a slip of the tongue, OK, no biggie.

* The problem with the so-called ziggurat is not that LRO tried to image it but missed, but that it doesn't exist. Here's the image it would have appeared on if it was there. Mike Bara's arrogance does not allow him to admit that he's wrong, so he retreats to an untenable position.

* Bara has still not explained why the "ziggurat" is not seen on the Japanese image from Selene (Kaguya).

* It is totally untrue that somebody must have had a special interest in that area "otherwise they wouldn't be wasting the orbiter resources on it." LRO is engaged in mapping the entire Moon. As long as it's in orbit, no additional resources are needed to capture images. That applies equally to the "ziggurat" and the "mystery right-angle" (which by the way is 96° not 90.) Huge swaths of boring, featureless, lunar real estate have been photographed at a resolution of 0.5 metres/pixel.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Viking biology (repeat from 2008)

        Mike Bara garbage-tweets this week about Viking biology. He was responding to this from Maureen Elsberry:

Retired #NASA Astrobiologist Will Present Evidence of Extraterrestrial Life at #UFO Conference

 Mike posted:

Already found on Mars in 1976. Dr. Gil Levin.
        As far back as April 2008 this blog set the record straight on Gil Levín and the meaning of his biology experiment. I'm repeating it below, with a few now-dead links removed.

{{cue the harp arpeggios}}

        Hoagland & Bara appear to be confused about Viking biology. For those interested, here is a digest of the actual facts:

        Both the Viking spacecraft landers had identical biology experiments. Each spacecraft carried three separate experiments designed to test for biology in Martian topsoil. The experiments were developed independently by three different Principal Investigators (PIs). The experiments were:

Gas Exchange (GEX) PI Vance Oyama, NASA Ames
Labeled Release (LR) PI Gilbert Levín, Biospherics, Inc.
Pyrolytic Release (PR) PI Norman Horowitz, CalTech

        In addition, a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (PI Klaus Biemann, MIT) supported the main biology package by testing for organic molecules.

Results: At both landing sites the results were essentially identical. GEX and PR were unequivocally negative. LR initially showed strongly positive results, with the control (a sterilized sample) showing negative as expected. Subsequent nutrient injections, however, showed no response. The GCMS detected no organic molecules.

Interpretation: Responsibility for interpreting this enigma fell on the Head of Viking Biology, Harold Klein, with support from Viking Chief Scientist Gerry Soffen. Both were NASA employees. Their call was thumbs down for Martian biology. From a scientific point of view, looking at the overall picture, an absolutely correct call -- but the LR results begged for an explanation. The hypothesis that was developed involved a chemical, not biological, reaction involving superoxides in the soil.

        Dr Levín has been protesting this interpretation for more than 40 years. His main point is that the LR experiment detected life as pre-defined by agreed criteria during mission design. He has developed quite persuasive explanations for why the two other experiments and the GCMS gave negative results.

        Hoagland & Bara seem aware that this is a controversy but they get it wrong. They maintain that there was a deliberate campaign within NASA to conceal Levín's data. That allegation is categorically untrue. Consider these points:

* The enigmatic results were extensively discussed with the media at the time by Klein and Soffen. 
* No attempt whatsoever has ever been made to suppress publication by Dr Levín of his own interpretation. Mike Bara himself posted on the darkmission blog links to six of Levín's publications on the question.
* The complete LR data set, including the PI's notebook, is available to anyone on a NASA-sponsored web site.

        Other comments by Hoagland & Bara suggest that they also think the consensus view is wrong — in other words, that they think Levín's experiment alone proves the existence of life on Mars. It's a contentious and highly technical issue, and considering that neither of them has any training in biology whatsoever, their views will certainly be ignored by anybody who matters.