The Sciences

Anomalous Martian anomalies

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJan 6, 2009 5:21 PM


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I have to wonder, sometimes, what's running through some people's heads. For example, you see a picture, a famous picture, or at least one that thousands of people have seen. You see something in it no one else has noticed. It's incredibly obvious, and in fact revolutionary. Incredibly, you realize that you're seeing not just one amazing thing in this picture, but dozens! It'll change mankind as we know it! You tell people, but no one believes you, no matter what you do, and no matter how obvious the picture is. At what point do you think, hey, I wonder if just maybe I'm the one who's wrong? If you're Andrew D. Basiago, the answer is "never". Mr. Basiago is the founder and president of the Mars Anomaly Research Society, where he digs through pictures of Mars and looks for anything he doesn't understand, which he then claims is evidence of life on the Red Planet. He evidently has met with some resistance to his claims, because he was forced to send out a press release, which Yahoo! dutifully published. In it, he's trying to convince the National Geographic Society to publish his nonsense. Reading it is funny, if a little sad:

On December 7th, Basiago made his discovery. "I was astonished by what I found," he said. "There, on the Red Planet, were beings in blue bodysuits and the abstract artwork of a Martian civilization. I was looking at the first evidence of life beyond Earth!" In his letter to the National Geographic Society, the lawyer writes that careful evaluation of PIA10214 reveals "a cosmic treasure trove of pictographic evidence of life on Mars, including humanoid beings, animal species, carved statues, and built structures."

Blue bodysuits. Right. Here's the picture in question:

Click it to embiggen, or check out the original which has lots more detail. Do you see any Martians? Animals? Humans? Anything at all but rocks, more rocks, and yet even more rocks? Well, there is evidence of life in that image. You can see parts of the rover in it. But I don't think that's what Mr. Basiago is talking about. What I'm talking about is that this is just more pareidolia, of course, except in this case it's mixed with a person utterly convinced that what he's seeing is real. In general, this kind of stuff is harmless (except perhaps to the deluded individual) unless it gets publicity, or someone like Hoagland uses it to throw a monkey in the wrench at NASA, slowing real science down. But remember the Bigfoot on Mars? Or the Martian log? This kind of stuff is beloved by the media, who don't understand that they are in fact supporting such garbage, and wind up wasting the time of real scientists trying to do real work. Isn't it cool enough that we've had rovers traversing across the face of another planet, and they've been doing it for five frakking years? For some people, I guess not. Too bad. They're missing the actual cool stuff. Tip o' the tin foil beanie to BABloggee STUARTATK.

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