Saturday, April 14, 2012

A "monolith" and life on Mars

Our fascination with Mars continues...

Amateur astronomers have discovered yet another odd object on the surface of Mars.  It was what appears to be a perfectly rectangular slab jutting upwards.  It doesn't take much imagination to see the similarities between this form and the monolith from 2001.  But as one might expect, imaging experts at NASA have quite a different opinion on the nature of the formation.

The photograph in which the monolith was found is actually from several years back in a series taken by NASA's HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Jonathon Hill of the Mars Spaceflight Facility, whom we've heard before on matters such as these, asserts that the "monolith" is nothing more than a roughly rectangular boulder.  Indeed when the image is magnified, you can begin to discern the jagged and irregular edges of the shape.  "Any curve will look like a series of straight lines if you reduce your resolution enough," Hill said.

Interestingly enough, the monolith report hit the Internets in close proximity to this news about old results from the 1976 Viking lander.  After going over the printouts of said data, a collective of mathematicians and space scientists now believe that the findings confirm the presence of microbial life on Mars. 

"On the basis of what we've done so far, I'd say I'm 99 percent sure there's life there," said neuropharmacologist and biologist Joseph Miller with the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine.  The work of these researchers was done from an almost purely mathematical mode of operation, analyzing the data sets for complexity.  In theory, biological findings would be more complex than non-biological.  To hear these minds say it, there is an excellent chance of at least microbe-level life on Mars, even if the land is not nearly as irriguous as astronomy once believed.

The factual, non-fiction writer in me is rather tepid on these news items.  The monolith is a geologic formation not at all unlike similar ones right here on Earth.  The interpretation of life on Mars from the Viking data will just be countered by other scientists eventually.  That's the way of things, it seems.

The fiction writer in me wants to believe.  I want to intermingle these two stories and say that the monolith is yet another artifact of the alien civilization that once thrived on Mars, just as described in the late Mac Tonnies' Cydonian Imperative.  In fact, I wish he were around now to give his thoughts on this "monolith."  If nothing else, I think that the fiction writer has the more compelling of the two stories.  Maybe even a story that entails a man bellowing "you blew my cover!" and another "the reactor makes air but the bastard won't turn it on!"

Yeah, that's the ticket.

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