Thursday, February 7, 2013

That "weird hunk of metal on Mars"

A valid question, I believe.  Even if inelegantly phrased.

The story ran in The Atlantic with the title "Um, What's This Weird Hunk of Metal on Mars?"  If you can wade through prose that resembles something more suited to Yahoo's OMG! or "popular gastronomy" or something, you will find that the article's topic is a protuberance from the Martian soil spotted by the Curiosity rover.   The probe's Mastcam snapped a photo of something sticking up from the rock and possessed of a "metallic gleam" according to observers such as Universe Today.

A bit of math work with the object's shadow determined that the projected piece is only half a centimeter in height.  What is it?  As you might imagine, theories abound.  Un-oxidized iron, maybe?  A fragment from a meteorite?  No one knows yet, but astronomers are actually leaning towards something metallic and NASA is going to attempt to get another looksee from Curiosity.

Comments on the article are jocular to the point of being tiresome.  As usual, the possibility of the metal's nature being anything but prosaic is unthinkable.  I'm not saying that it must be out of the realm of known experience, but the option must be considered.

And that's where the problem comes in, at least to my way of thinking.

As many others have said, there exists a strand within science that is wholly unscientific.  "Don't consider that, no, don't even go there.  It's complete bullshit." I really don't mind someone saying that, provided they have investigated the case.  If that is the consensus they come to upon consideration, fine.  Just don't dismiss things on a knee jerk basis. This, in my opinion, has always been the case when considering exo-archeology on Mars.

A popular topic in this vein is the alleged "face" in the Cydonia region.  It is something that, yet again, I can't fully decide upon.  An initial photo taken by the Viking lander showed what appears to be a sphinx-like face staring upward from the surface of Mars.  This, alleges Richard Hoagland, is but one indication of the remains of dead civilization on that planet.  Hoagland's theories are admittedly radical and this has turned him into a convenient straw man to attack when discussing exo-archeology on Mars.  Subsequent photos of the Cydonia region revealed that the "face" is a lot less face-like than the original photo suggested.

And yet...and yet...

Mac Tonnies, a thorough researcher and greatly missed voice in the paranormal/science fiction community (sadly, he died in 2009), wrote a persuasive essay entitled "Emphatically Still a Face" that grants compelling evidence and reasoning for one to pause and reconsider.  For example, exo-archeological detractors point to the wear and tear on the "face" in the latest photos.  If it is indeed a monument of sorts and built at least thousands of years ago, erosion is inevitable.  Even on Mars.  But monuments on Mars is just plain crazy, right?

Ah ridicule.  The most effective means around if you need to stifle a question.

Let's hope solid conclusions can be drawn regarding this new discovery.
Then again, if it were anything other than prosaic, would they even tell us?

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