Mars is a world of mysteries. And on February 14, 2001, a new mystery surfaced on the Red Planet – almost quite literally.
Valley of the Boulders
On that date, an international group of nine 10- 15-year-old boys and girls – known as the Red Rover Goes to Mars Team – were invited by NASA to direct the camera aboard the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). The MGS probe has been orbiting Mars since March, 1998 and has sent back many spectacular images of the planet’s surface in stunning detail. But when these kids took the controls of the camera, they picked up an image of an anomaly that has scientists puzzled. It’s the latest in a long list of pictures from Mars that keeps scientists, amateur astronomers and explorers of the unknown scratching their heads.
The picture, seen below, shows a scattering of large, dark boulders in the middle of a relatively flat, light-colored plain. The puzzle is: Where did they come from? There are no mountains or large hills that the boulders could have broken off from. And their color is in sharp contrast to anything in the surrounding area.
“It’s puzzling,” said Michael Carr of the US Geological Survey. “I looked at a few pictures around [the area] and couldn’t find anything to explain it. Very puzzling! These are huge boulders. There are no indications of any outcrops that could shed such boulders.”
NASA – Click photo for enlargement
How huge are they? It is estimated that they are between 50 and 80 feet in diameter! Those are big rocks!
“Wow! These have me totally stumped,” commented Ron Greeley of Arizona State University. “Not only is the dark color of the boulders a surprise, but they appear totally out of context in the surrounding terrain. There is nothing in the rest of the image to suggest a source for such large boulders, nor their arrangement on the surface.”
One proposed theory is that the boulders are the remains of a meteor that shattered on impact. Yet there is no impact crater; the meteor would have had to have been moving quite slowly to make no crater and keep its fragments in such a close grouping. The meteor theory is highly unlikely. Planetary scientists have yet to come up with a plausible, satisfactory explanation for the boulders.
The Cydonia region of Mars seems to be chock full of weird anomalous structures. Southwest of the infamous “face” is a group of features that have been called “pyramids.” With their relatively smooth, triangular sides, they bear a striking resemblance from the air to the pyramids at Giza, Egypt (see photos at right).
One of the most closely studied is the so-called D&M pyramid. According to researcher Mark Carlotto, “the three illuminated faces of the D&M appear to be relatively flat with well defined edges in between. Buttress like structures at the base of several edges are also evident. In the MGS image the edge between the northeast and northwest faces resembles a spine running from the apex of the D&M down to the ground. At the base of the spine lies a circular depression, possibly an opening. A dark feature seems to emanate northward from this depression or opening, which then leads into a sinuous channel off to the right.”
Carlotto also has examined “the City Pyramid,” a five-sided structure whose spines “resemble the five pointed Egyptian symbol for a star.” In the most high-resolution photos of these structures taken by MGS, the pyramids look somewhat less pyramid-like, but their geometric shapes are still intriguing.
NASA – Click photo for enlargement
The curious formation seen here has been dubbed the Star City. It’s a complex structure that some researchers say shows walls of artificial construction. More detailed photos can be found at Anomalous Images.
The structure is located on the Syrtis Major Planum area and is part of a large area of strange patterns, geometric objects and other curiosities that look for all the world like tubes and tunnels.
According to Star City – A Second Cydonia?, the structures most likely have a natural origin: “Large domes and tubes, volcanic in origin, cover the landscape, and several of the domes have partially collapsed, creating interesting structures. In many cases the uncollapsed parts are probably partially hollow and may provide a shelter from the extreme Martian environment.”
Indeed, just because a feature looks artificial doesn’t mean that it is. We are only beginning to understand Mars’ climate, geology and processes. It is still hotly debated whether or not Mars ever had flowing water – and perhaps still does. Yet there are some features of this strange planet that are truly mystifying…
NASA – Click photo for
The Martian Tubes
These are, without a doubt, the most fascinating objects yet photographed on the surface of Mars. They look like long translucent tubes supported by rows of bright arches. “A lot of people have seen these strange structures and have tried to speculate as to what they might be,” says Jeffrey McCann at The Research Abyss. “Some would say these are huge water ducts funneling water from one area to another, others are firm in thinking that these are some sort of natural geological anomaly only occurring on Mars.”
McCann and Joseph P. Skipper, both researchers into Martian anomalies, call this image “the real smoking gun as to life on Mars.” The image was discovered in June, 2000 among the many images posted at the Malin Space Science Systems website, which has tens of thousands of Mars pictures available for online viewing and examination.
“These structures are actually in excellent condition,” says Skipper in an article titled Dissecting The Mars ‘Tubes’ Anomaly, “where other antiquity anomalies on Mars are heavily eroded, allowing endless debate as to what they truly are, natural or constructs. Note their general uniformity and the uniform spacing of the bands or ridges. Note how one structure here clearly attaches to another and note the shiny round terminating end at the junction point clearly defining it as a constructed hard object as opposed to a natural geological formation of some kind. Note how at least one or more bands/ridges span around both structures tying them together at the junction point clearly demonstrating construction technique. Note the apparent translucent composition of these structures and how entirely alien they clearly are to the geology and topography they are embedded in. There can be no question that these are constructs of some kind. But, made by what or who and for what purpose?”
At Richard Hoagland’s Enterprise Mission, Sir Arthur C. Clarke (author of 2001: A Space Odyssey) is quoted as remarking about the tubes: “I’m still waiting for an explanation of that extraordinary glass worm on… [Mars]… How big is it? It’s one of the most incredible images that’s ever come from space and there have been no [official] comments on it whatsoever!”
These are just some of the anomalous features of our closest neighbor planet. And as we continue to receive more data and pictures from Mars (the Mars Odyssey orbiting probe is set to launch on April 7, 2001 and will arrive in October, 2001), some of these mysteries may be resolved… but it’s more likely that many more will be opened. It may not be until we can place new rovers on the planet (more unmanned rovers are planned for 2003 and 2005) or a manned mission successfully lands there that we will begin to unravel the many mysteries of Mars.