Anyone not familiar with Google Earth? Just in case, Google Earth is a software that allows you to view a recent picture of any part of the Earth. By combining photographs taken from a variety of resources around and above the earth, the Google Earth software compiles a virtual atlas of our planet. Even if you have never used the application, you more than likely have seen it utilized by others on websites and television.
Now, is anyone not aware that the same can be done with Mars? Since its rollout in 2009, Google Earth 5 contained a feature that will allow you to use Google Earth technology applied to Mars. This has sprung a new generation of amateur “armchair astronomers” that need only a computer and an internet connection to become planetary explorers. Carl Sagan would have been proud.
Yet as should have been expected with this product, some earthlings are using ‘Google Mars’ in their never-ending quest to show the world that they are NOT crazy by finding ‘The’ evidence of those pesky, perpetually-evasive, little-green “men from Mars.”
What has received practically no major media attention (correctly so) transpired just yesterday, when it was announced by David Martines that “Bio Station Alpha” has been discovered on Mars. Martines was scouring Mars using Google Earth and discovered a patch of lightly-colored pixel batches that stand out in an otherwise sea of red-brown hues. His analysis has led him to the conclusion that this is an artificial structure some 700′ long and 150′ wide. This structure’s purpose is unknown, according to Martines – he will not tie himself down to an opinion about the ‘Why’. However, he seems perfectly perfectly happy with pinning himself down about the ‘What’.
One of the things that forever anchors believers of the paranormal and pseudoscience to the outer fringes of real science is their disregard (intentionally or otherwsie) of the rules of science. When it comes to the observable universe, we refer to the rules as the ‘laws of physics’. What makes science such a wonderful endeavor is that we are allowed to frolic freely within these laws that define the boundaries of our reality. No thought or experiment can be impaired or prohibited within. It is perhaps as robust a freedom that human beings have ever known. But within this freedom are limitations, limitations defined by the boundaries of science – the boundaries of what is knowable.
At the same time, it is entirely acceptable to “think outside the box” and come up with thoughts and experiments that challenge the laws of physics. But with this liberty comes responsibility. Responsible people who undertake these adventures (most of whom are professional theoretical physicists) understand that their work MAKES NO CLAIMS that would otherwise overrule the rules. They make observations, and it is up to the world community of scientists to determine (by replication and experiment) if the observations hold true. It is all part of a long, laborious process that can span generations. We internet-dependent, up-to-the second information-seeking creatures too often forget this about the process of science.
So before Martines goes stating that he’s discovered an artificial structure on another planet, he must establish a great deal of data and facts in order to reach such a conclusion. This is part of the rules of science. You can not just look at satellite pictures and make proclamations. Satellite pictures are not evidence. They are marvelous tools, but that is all they are, tools. The human mind is a tool as well. And like every other tool that exists, satellites and human brains are imperfect.
On the SGU, we have talked about the imperfections of Google Earth images. There are anomalies all over the place, many of which cause distortions such as blocking, mosaicing, pixilation, and other computer-based artifacts. We also have to remember that we are pattern-seeking animals, and our brains LOVE to make order out of chaos. We tend to fill in the blanks, unless we are aware that our brains have a tendency to fill voids. If we want to see a “bio-station” on Mars, that is what we will see. If we want to see Bigfoot on Mars, that is what we will see. If we want to see trees on Mars, that is what we will see.
Does this mean that the pictures from Mars are not a structure? No. It could be a structure, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and we do not have ANY other evidence, let alone the extraordinary evidence that would be needed to support such a claim.
Mars continues to be a wonderful visual aid that helps distinguish science from pseudoscience.
NOTE – when I started writing this entry, the story was buried. Now it is on The Daily Mail as of 11:52am today. So much for major media not picking up the story. 😛