Sir Arthur Ups the Ante

Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Buzz Aldrin at Clarke's home in Sri Lanka

In the latest in what has become an on-going series of aggressive, push-the-envelope statements by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, he has again managed to upset the apple cart by directly stating what so few in the planetary sciences community are willing to admit  -- things are not as we have been told regarding our solar system. Clarke -- the inventor of the communications satellite, author of "2001 - A Space Odyssey," "Childhood's End," "Rendezvous with RAMA," and numerous other novels; champion of cold fusion and other "free energy" research projects -- is probably best known for taking Enterprise principal investigator Richard C. Hoagland's ideas about life in the oceans of Europa and using them to create his novel "2010 - Odyssey Two," the long awaited sequel to "2001."

Clarke took the opportunity of his recent face-to-face meeting with Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin -- the first 33 Scottish Rite Freemason to walk on the surface of the Moon -- to drop his bombshell statement in a story

"I'm fairly convinced that we have discovered life on Mars," Clarke told Sunday as Buzz Aldrin listened. "There are some incredible photographs from [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory], which to me are pretty convincing proof of the existence of large forms of life on Mars! Have a look at them. I don't see any other interpretation."

Clarke's flat statement stunned Aldrin into silence, much as his earlier statements on the "Glass worms of Mars" at a Planetary Society event in December, 2000 made Society chairman Louis Friedman acutely uncomfortable. Given that Friedman had promised that Bruce Murray, president of the Society would "send him an e-mail" on the glass tubes -- apparently "explaining" them --  it seems that Sir Arthur was less than impressed with Murray's elucidation. Aldrin, unlike Friedman who quickly signed off on his video conference with Clarke, was pretty much stuck and immediately changed the subject to a discussion of "zero-point energy," which is a sort of code phrase for Hoagland's "Hyperdimensional Physics." And all this follows Clarke's earlier statements on Europa; "I'm beginning to think the unthinkable."

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What then are we to make of the recently knighted author/inventor's sudden enthusiasm for questioning conventional wisdom? Is he just stating the obvious, and seeking to shock the complacent planetary community into doing the science they have neglected for so long? Is he trying to not-so-gently prod them into giving up their comfortable paradigms about the solar system? Or is he a true insider, fed up with the pace of revelations he had been led to believe (33 years ago ..?) would be much faster?

Clearly, if it's the latter, Sir Arthur is on dangerous ground. 

At the very least, he seems to be arguing that we need a new view of our solar system -- something we here at Enterprise have advocated for decades. Still, it's not fully clear exactly what he is saying is currently present on Mars. Is he actually arguing -- as we did in June, 2000 -- that there might be not only be present day water on the Martian surface, but current day life forms as well? Certainly, his reference to "large forms of life" (and an earlier reference in the London Times to "bushes" visible in some MGS images) can be seen as referencing these specific features, not as fossils, but as current living things -- along with the "Glass worms/tubes" we first presented that same month. Or, is he making an all inclusive statement ("large forms of life ...") that can be interpreted as pointing to the large products MGS has imaged of intelligent life -- a.k.a. ruins -- on Mars?

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If it is the former, he certainly can point to an extensive, accumulating quantity of startling evidence that calls into serious question the conventional (read "NASA") view of Mars, as "a cold, uninhabitable hell" ...

This NASA view of Mars (to which most planetary scientists in and outside NASA have quietly acquiesced) -- a "dry, dead desert planet" with an atmosphere so thin that not even water could stay in a liquid state on its surface for more than few seconds -- was established by the first NASA mission to view the planet close-up. Mariner 4 arrived at the Red planet in the Summer of 1965 and revealed a harsh landscape of barren cratered deserts. Measurements taken at that time supposedly established that the atmosphere was too thin to support water in a liquid state, and was almost 100 percent carbon dioxide -- leaving the probability for finding life as "extremely unlikely."

That view prevailed until the Viking missions of the mid 1970's, when the two landers were sent to test the soil for signs of microbial life. The two orbiters, as readers of this page well know, also sent back strikingly contradictory images of disconcerting features (certainly to JPL and NASA!) that seemed to suggest the presence of "an ancient advanced civilization" on the planet, at least in the Cydonia region.

What most people do not remember is that the lander tests for life came back positive. NASA however, quickly moved to suppress this news and present an "alternative" view -- that the results were just a "mistake," a chemical reaction and not "proof of life on Mars." However, the scientist heading one of the Viking biology experiments, Dr. Gilbert Levin (one of three Viking Principal Investigators with a biology experiment on the Viking Landers, this one called the "Labeled Release Experiment"), has always insisted that his instrument's results were positive for life, and not a result of a mere "chemical interaction." His case was bolstered in 1996 when NASA announced the discovery of microfossils in a meteorite from Mars. Obviously, if there were once microorganisms living on Mars, there was no reason that they could not be present on Mars today. The only remaining argument against that conclusion was the supposed absence of a "biologically kind" environment, i.e. liquid water.

Levin himself had argued for sometime that this was not really an issue. He presented a paper describing the circumstances under which water could remain in a liquid state on Mars. He pointed out that the NASA view of Mars as "unable to support water at the surface" was based on a faulty assumption -- that the water was evenly distributed throughout Mars' atmosphere, rather than in just "the lower 1-3 km," as confirmed by Pathfinder. Then again, last year NASA announced the discovery of signs of former liquid water on Mars. And just last summer, the Enterprise Mission found evidence of recent water flows on the Martian surface. Even more examples of flowing water on the present day Martian surface have been found by other researchers, as have numerous MGS images of provocative ice lakes and even a possible river (below).

From "Mars Unearthed"

All of which points to the growing, undisputable fact that Mars seems far more complex -- and apparently far more hospitable -- than we were led to believe from NASA's initial flyby data in 1965. But this "theoretical" rethinking pales when compared to something we can actually see -- the little-known story of the "true colors of Mars."

Barry Digregorio's book (authored with the heavy assistance of Levin and Patricia Ann Straat) called "Mars: the Living Planet" details the bizarre story of how NASA "faked" the deep red color of Mars on the Viking Lander images, after the initial release showed an "Arizona" desert-like environment ... and a blue sky. 

It goes on to relate how Levin's son, a photographer, smelled something wrong when a JPL tech came around and simply twisted all the monitor color controls in the press area to red. How, when he tried to turn them back, Levin's son was threatened by JPL security! Digregorio goes on to report that this "color shifting" was done by direct order of James Fletcher, the then NASA Administrator. 

Now what possible investment could the NASA director have in the public perception of the color of the Martian sky, absent a political agenda? Clearly, a blue sky would have made the Martian desert seem not all that much more alien to most Americans than the red rocks at Sedona, Arizona. Throw in the possibility of liquid flowing water and positive results for the biology experiments and -- well, you see the problem. Had all this come down at once in 1976, the American public would have been clamoring to go to Mars!

Somebody, it seems, decided that the time was just not right for such an endeavor -- and moved to scuttle the momentum.

And this part of the story takes an even more bizarre twist when, in 1996, JPL suddenly began sending out new versions of its twenty-year-old Viking data ... and the blue sky and "normal" Earth-like deserts of a generation before just as suddenly were back ...

... only to disappear again in 1997 with Pathfinder!! 

This Hubble image of Mars shows what we should have seen when Pathfinder touched down -- pleasant Earth-like dark blue skies. So why, in the Face of obvious photographic proof from their own probes and instruments, does NASA insist on telling us a modern-day version of the old "Earth is flat" tale? Why not just show us Mars as it truly is?

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Beyond that, there is an even bigger "biological problem" for the conventional NASA view of the true colors -- and environment -- of Mars. Levin suggested that there were other hues on Mars than just dull browns and reds. This was verified by members of the Viking imaging team, who confirmed there were blue and green patches on rocks ... that changed seasonally! The only rational explanation for these "changing patches" on the rocks, shifting color with the rising and dropping seasonal temperatures and atmospheric availability of water is ... biological entities, like simple plants or lichens, reacting to changing biospheric conditions!

What all this suggests is some sort of internecine warfare in NASA/JPL, between those who are ready to come clean about the true environment of Mars, and those who wish to keep the now 35-year-old view of it as a dead, cold, barren world intact. By coming out so forcefully in recent months, Clarke is making it clear that he is among the former group. For whatever reason (maybe simply because it is 2001?), Sir Arthur has chosen to put it all on the line and confront the "Owls," those in the know who (pun intended) prefer to keep the dark cloak of night on these amazing revelations.

Clarke has been considered a visionary for the better part of the last century for a reason -- he is one. But he certainly is risking a lot, his reputation, -- perhaps even his personal safety -- to confront these demons and force these questions out into the open. In that we will be willing allies, for the stakes are high. But as Sir Arthur himself seems to be pointing out by his actions -- the ante has just been upped.