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PFS Ammonia Spectrum

Formisano's Twilight Zone
Part 2: An Official Announcement of
"Life on Mars" ... in September?

Richard C. Hoagland
David Sadler

[posted: 2004.08.18]

International Mars Conference - Ischia Island, Italy - September 2004
An Appeal to Formisano, Atreya and Real Scientists Everywhere

The International Mars Conference Program of Events

On Wednesday, August 11, 2004, we downloaded the following official Program, describing the speakers and presentation titles for the upcoming International Mars Conference to be held on the Italian island of Ischia, in the Bay of Naples, September 19-23, 2004. According to the site, this official program was last modified on Thursday, August 5, 2004. (1)

The problem is the Program now available at this URL is not the same Program that we downloaded August 11th!

The revised Conference Program file says it was "modified Thursday, August 12, 2004." A significant change was made to the title of one of the key presentations -- that of Dr. Vittorio Formisano, Principal Investigator of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS).

Why is this important?

The significance of this development stems directly from the very strange environment swirling around the PFS team for the last several months, and Dr. Vittorio Formisano in particular -- as can be read in our most recent article on this increasingly confusing situation, here:

Formisano's Twilight Zone: Part 1: 'Ammonia by Any Other Name'
by Richard C. Hoagland and David Sadler
Posted: August 10, 2004

Our present concern, as we view these most recent strange developments, is that it appears the integrity of science is once again being threatened by the politics of 'science.'

For whatever reason, planetary scientists who have designed life detection experiments and sent them to Mars over the past thirty or so years have been repeatedly "silenced" through one means or another, when their experiments have even suggested a "positive detection" for life.

We are trying very hard to give highly visible support to those researchers engaged in the current Mars missions, so they can announce the objective returns from their instrument packages … even if the implications are that the data returns strongly suggest -- or even prove -- current life on Mars. (2)

It appears -- from a wide variety of recent sources, media interviews, published articles, conference programs and abstracts -- that current mission scientists are struggling to announce "life on Mars" sooner … rather than later. But, they are encountering the same difficulty others, years before them, also mysteriously encountered.

A Closer Look at the Program

agenzia spaziale italiana
agenzia spaziale italiana
Italian Space Agency

imc title

BEFORE August 12th .…
Ischia1.pdf (This program is available now for download.)
Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2004

Monday 20th [September 2004] Session 2

Ischia program mod date 2004.08.05
Snapshot of original program listing...
  • V. Formisano: PFS Observation of methane Formaldehyde and HS: Extant Life on Mars?
  • Speech: G. Bignami (ESA SSAC Chair): "Life and planets, myths and science"

Wednesday 22nd [September 2004]

Ischia program mod date 2004.08.05
  • Keynote Speech (1/2 hour): S. Atreya: Methane on Mars – Sources, Sinks, and Implications for Life
Note the following details regarding this initially posted Ischia1.pdf September Mars Conference program:
  • These are selected extracts, and do not represent the entire program.
  • Each extracted speech or presentation included "life" in the tile (of the BEFORE August 12th program, below).
  • Formisano's presentation title states that the PFS has 'observed,' "methane, formaldehyde and HS."
  • Formisano's presentation title also uses the word 'extant' -- when asking the question if these PFS observations imply "life" on Mars. We will look at the crucial definition of 'extant' later.

AFTER August 12th ….
Ischia1.pdf (This program is available now for download.)
modified: Thursday, August 12, 2004

Monday 20th [September 2004] Session 2
  • V. Formisano: the resultats [sic] of the PFS instrument (10)
  • Speech: G. Bignami (ESA SSAC Chair): "Life and planets, myths and science"

Wednesday 22nd [September 2004]
  • Keynote Speech (1/2 hour): S. Atreya: Methane on Mars – Sources, Sinks, and Implications for Life
Notice the following regarding the suddenly revised Ischia1.pdf program schedule, presented below ....
  • Again, these are selected extracts and do not represent the entire program.
  • Each extracted speech or presentation includes 'life' in the tile of the AFTER August 12th program -- EXCEPT for Formisano's presentation. Formisano's "new" title has changed significantly along lines that now give us serious concern ….
  • Formisano's current presentation title does not include the word "life," or the phrase 'extant life on Mars?' It also now omits any mention of the original "methane, formaldehyde and HS."
  • Notice also that the change to Formisano's speech title was typed without spell checking!; whoever altered Formisano's presentation title was in such an apparent hurry ... that they misspelled ‘results.’

Why Are We Concerned?

We are concerned because Formisano's first title was so provocative and matched so closely his earlier on-the-record statements -- including his expressed desire to "announce life on Mars" in September. (3) Because of the sudden program change, we have reason to suspect that pressure has somehow been applied to Formisano to alter his planned presentation title, and we worry even more that pressure has been applied to completely suppress Formisano's apparent "methane, formaldehyde and HS" findings.

Why Was the First Title So Provocative?

This spring (2004), three independent teams announced methane on Mars. By itself, these three independent announcements are a remarkable indicator of currently existing Martian lifeforms. But, in the first published Ischia Conference Program, Formisano went even further -- stating unequivocally that the PFS instrument had now detected, "methane … formaldehyde and HS."

Methane's primary source, even during geological ventings through volcanic activity, has an unmistakable biological source. (4) Or, as Colin Pillinger, Open University's Principal Investigator of ESA's missing Mars Express Beagle 2 Mars Lander Mission noted recently:
Whether it [methane] is produced by organisms now or from volcanic activity, the primary source of methane is microbes. Most of the natural methane gas released during geological activity on the Earth [volcanism] originally comes from the decomposition of organic matter. On a planet like Mars, methane doesn't hang around so you have to find a way of constantly replenishing it. It is very difficult to produce except from a biological source ... (4)
And Dr. Formisano added, in his provocative May 6th interview with Linda Moulton Howe:
Speculation is that already methane is a rather strong indicator life is probably present today on Mars [emphasis added]. (3)
Formisano then added:
Formaldehyde is destroyed in the Martian atmosphere within 7.5 hours. There is no way that formaldehyde can exist and remain for a long time in the Martian atmosphere. If [formaldehyde is] confirmed, possibly life on Mars today, yes [emphasis added]. (3)
If the PFS team has now confirmed the detection of formaldehyde, as well as methane, the inclusion of 'life' in the three titles extracted from the earlier Ischia Program is not there just to"tease the crowd," or to create an "unnecessary" controversy. And that confirmed detection of formaldehyde -- his stated "PFS observation" -- is exactly what Formisano's first title explicitly stated!

Combine Formisano's provocative, initial paper title (suddenly and curiously altered -- and now sterilized of any mention of "methane, formaldehyde or 'life'") with the title of Sushil K. Atreya's keynote speech, "Methane on Mars – Sources, Sinks, and Implications for Life," and one can see why the IMC could very well be the milestone event its organizers are promoting it to be. (7, 1)
While methane might persist in the Martian atmosphere for up to 400 years, formaldehyde is destroyed in less than 8 hours ... [emphasis added]. (5)
Atreya's Ischia keynote title suggests that mapping of the amounts and distribution of methane has been accomplished, leading to serious "implications for life."

Formisano's Original Presentation Title: Analyzed

There are two key aspects to note regarding Formisano's provocative original Conference title.
We will look at each part below...

Original title: • V. Formisano: PFS Observation of methane Formaldehyde and HS: Extant Life on Mars?
Part 1: "PFS Observation of methane Formaldehyde and HS"

This part is straight, fact-based observation, measurement and analysis. It's scientific and self-evident … IF the Mars Express instrumentation (and the analysis model) is capable of observing and measuring, as advertised, these gases in the Martian atmosphere. (However, on this point, as difficult as it might be to believe, there are still lingering questions about even this basic technical capability -- mainly coming from ..... PFS "competitors" ...).

As we mentioned, this title segment is provocative enough regarding "life on Mars," since formaldehyde is destroyed in less than 8 hours in the Martian atmosphere, and methane needs a constant resourcing every 400 years ….

If these gases have been measured and mapped with sources and sinks that rule out volcanism, current life off Earth --- life on Mars! -- is finally a "given." And THAT is a GALILEO CLASS EVENT.

THAT one scientific announcement has the potential of Changing the Paradigm: the current world-view that Earth has a monopoly on life alone … in the whole Universe!

Enter the political model (Sadler) -- "the NEXT Mission" program. (2b)

This scam has been (and IS being!) perpetrated upon the tax payers by those controlling the major planetary space agencies, including NASA and ESA. Protecting this continuing "scam" is reason enough for those running it to shut down any "premature disclosure" or announcement of this paradigm-changing finding -- identifying "life" as the ultimate source of these trace Martian atmospheric gases.


Because such an official, positive "life conclusion" would inevitably lead to overwhelming political pressure to fund and mount the "definitive" Mars mission -- one that actually ends the (currently) endless "search for life!"

The "definitive" Mars Life Detection Mission would have instruments and procedures (mission plan and life detection/identification/validation methods) that are undisputed and are certified to be valid and capable by agency and peer-reviewed consensus prior to funding and contract letting. This consensus would be in writing and would not be alterable.

Such prior "agency and peer-reviewed life detection certification" prior to launch would end this cycle:
  • design - fund - launch - positive detection - question the experiment - denigrate the principal investigator's judgment and team's analysis - ignore the data - propose the NEXT Mission to 'finally' answer the life question - design ...

We've been there before for way too many decades. We have learned and it's time to alter the plan...

This current "endless search" ... with no practical end in sight … is totaling literally billions of dollars, year after year, in endless government contracts spread across the aerospace industry, which makes the endless hardware and scientific instruments, to the scientists, engineers and administrators, and to the academic institutions participating in the government funded/granted research projects.

This game, this scam, this 'program,' is then literally extended over generations -- as succeeding graduating classes of science and engineering students enter the space industry to explore and learn the secret to ... perpetual funding!

We do not question – indeed, we admire -- the technical capabilities of all these groups, and the countless numbers of upstanding individuals within these groups. We communicate with many of them. We are totally confident that they are fully capable of resolving the "Life Question" on Mars. And many are as vocal about their opposition to the NEXT Mission program, as we are.

But many … too many … continue to participate in and succumb to the "NEXT Mission" game.

The failure to adopt a "definitive Mars Life Detection Mission Plan" reeks of exploitation of the tax payer and manipulation of the interest the public sincerely holds in wanting to know if life does, in fact, exist off the Earth.

"Feeding at the trough" of public expectation of "an answer" ... someday ... is a self-centered and disingenuous approach, by an industry of otherwise fully competent and capable minds. It is intellectually and scientifically dishonest -- if not ethically bankrupt. Our Nation --- all nations -- have too many other very crucial priorities, in these increasingly perilous times, for their national treasuries and the hard earned wealth of their citizens to be squandered in an endless, self-perpetuating "game" ….

These pressing other global priorities can easily absorb the energies and focus of these talented scientists, engineers and project administrators ….

At the very top of these priorities is a technologically advanced New Energy solution to the global dependence upon fossil fuels. The fragile and intricate web of fossil fuel infrastructure that runs from the source to the ultimate consumer is totally exposed to terrorist interruption. That puts all industrialized nations in the world at imminent risk. New Energy should be the real "next mission" for these publicly-supported scientists and engineers ... if their current task is just an endless charade … to keep them well-employed!

Sooner or later, the energy crisis will overpower the public's interest in a "search for life off Earth." So our message to these agencies, and the fine, honest and capable scientists everywhere within them -- including the ESA Mars Express PFS Team -- is that IF you have the data to establish a credible claim to the three inch headlines, "Life On Mars," make that announcement -- NOW.

The NEXT Mission program -- a literal welfare program for planetary scientists and NASA contractors -- would be dramatically changed … if The Final Mars Mission was actually mounted … which could once and for all definitively tell us if there is indeed "Life on Mars."

Confirmation of this agenda, this program comes from simple observation of our Mars missions and life detection experiments from the last quarter century --- including those now in progress. In addition, this NEXT Mission agenda was just confirmed by none other than a respected NASA scientist, Dr. David McKay.

According to McKay, chief scientist for astrobiology at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, it’s really the ill-concealed fear that Mars is ultimately lifeless – which has driven this tactical "NEXT Mission" agenda. McKay believes that within the Mars research community, there is a palpable fear of a "negative" result from any definitive test for Life on Mars … a negative that would then essentially kill the "Mars program" with its ultimate funding source ... the public!
I don’t think that’s the case at all," McKay argues, "In my view, it’s a terrible waste of landers not to have a life-detection instrument on every lander," he stated. "The public is smart enough to understand that a negative result doesn’t mean there’s no life on Mars [emphasis added]. (6)
While McKay's theorizing may sound plausible as to why the mainstream planetary scientists don't themselves rise up and demand the "definitive" Mars mission, or demand that positives from past and current life detection experiments be acknowledged and applauded … it's the second part of Formisano's initial Conference title that really blew us away.

It's vitally important to realize that it’s not what Formisano, or Atreya … or anyone else says in Ischia that will establish the "New Paradigm' -- and thus initiate the new world-view of "life off Earth." It is how "what they might say" is reported/acknowledged -- or disputed -- by "official science" in the mainstream press, and at the space agencies of NASA/ESA, etc.

Like it or not, it is the Reporting and Acknowledgment that will determine if Formisano's scientific determination of what his PFS instrument has found is even "allowed" by official Science. It is THAT acknowledgment and reporting that will determine if the public will see "Life On Mars" on their TVs and in their newspapers the morning following Formasino's paper.

Until The Announcement shows up in those places … the world-view … The Paradigm … will stay precisely the same ….

If "official science" denies the evidence, any Formisano "formaldehyde announcement," or an Atreya "methane (sources/sinks mapping) announcement" might very well encounter, what we call, the "Strauss Twist." (8)

If the Strauss Twist is invoked, Formisano and Atreya might very well find their PFS instrument denigrated, their findings discredited and themselves relegated to stand in the corner along with Gil Levin (1976 Viking Labeled Release Principal Investigator).


So, back to the provocative initial title of Formisano's paper at Ischia in September.

If Formisano's initial planned announcement had ended with "Life On Mars Has Been Detected and Confirmed," that would have been enough. But, his first intended title went further… MUCH further ....

Original title: • V. Formisano: PFS Observation of methane Formaldehyde and HS: Extant Life on Mars?
Part 2: "Extant Life on Mars?"

As if announcing that the PFS data has established a biological source for these Martian gasses, thus announcing, "Life On Mars," is not provocative enough, Formisano's original title went further and used the word 'extant. So, let's look at the definition of 'extant.'

Extant (9) adj.

1. Still in existence; not destroyed, lost, or extinct: extant manuscripts.
2. Archaic. Standing out; projecting.
2. Still existing; not destroyed or lost; outstanding.
Writings that were extant at that time. --Sir M. Hale.

3. Publicly known; conspicuous. [Obs.] --B. Jonson.

adj : still in existence; not extinct or destroyed or lost; "extant manuscripts"; "specimens of graphic art found among extant barbaric folk"- Edward Clodd [ant: extinct]


The first segment of Formisano's original Ischia Conference title indicated the PFS team has observed and analyzed "methane, formaldehyde and HS (hydrogen sulfide)."

It seems clear from the total context of Formisano's stated goal (to Linda Howe, in May) of "announcing life on Mars in September," and by his other comments at the time regarding "methane, ammonia and formaldehyde," that he believes there is current life on Mars … and that the PFS data is conclusive in this regard.

The second part of Formisano's first title was not a straightforward question, following this data: "Life On Mars?" He chose the far more curious wording, "Extant Life On Mars?"

"Life On Mars?" would have indicated he was asking the audience (his planetary science peers) to consider the PFS data he's acquired and analyzed to be sourced from current life. That these observed "biomarker" gases -- methane, ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide -- are being emitted from this current life, and this life is implied to represent the total scope of life that ever existed on Mars ….

Here's the potent dynamite lurking in his first title's second segment ….

"Extant Life On Mars?" indicates he was planning to ask the audience (his peers) to consider the data acquired and analyzed to be a reduced population of life on Mars … life that has survived some "prior destructive event." In the most conservative sense, this "surviving life" would simply represent a reduced population of the subterranean microbial colonies now strongly suspected (by other planetary scientists, those who are talking publicly about this …) to be producing these observed trace gases.

But in a more aggressive and speculative sense, this "surviving life" might just as easily represent a subset of a much larger gene pool -- an entire biosphere -- that once existed on Mars … for instance, complex organisms once living in its (now officially acknowledged) "ancient salty seas," and/or perhaps something even more extraordinary … once walking on dry land and/or flying in its Martian skies!

One of us (Hoagland) wrote extensively about this "far more complex model" in his recent "methane piece," published here on Enterprise just this Spring. An even more detailed development of these ideas can be found in Hoagland's comprehensive "Mars Tidal Model." And, there is Hoagland's controversial ultimate extension of that model … a former "intelligently inhabited Mars."

But this was Formisano's subtitle: "Extant Life on Mars?" We cannot read Formisano's mind, and to speculate upon what he might have meant -- in terms of the scope or extent of such a former gene pool/biosphere -- is at this point just a waste of time. We can only hope that Formisano will grant someone (perhaps one of us …) an interview in Ischia, so that we might then discover his private thoughts on this important matter.

The question mark in his Ischia conference title indicates he was asking for peer-approval of his contention that this PFS data represents current, surviving life. He is not telling his peers, "It’s life … period." That we now expect from the data itself, the instrumentation and the methodology. Here's the dynamite emphasized....

Formisano was (before "something" happened -- and his title got completely changed) prepared to publicly suggest that this current life is "extant" --- i.e. a subset of Martian life that has survived some past, planet-encompassing "catastrophy."

That is definitely non-trivial …. and must represent the quality of data now in the possession of the PFS team!

Unfortunately, Formisano might have tried to break what one of us (Sadler) calls the "One Anomaly Per Paper Rule."

This rule states that when presenting an idea that runs counter to conventional wisdom and politically correct science -- i.e., when presenting an idea that opposes the current paradigm (world-view) -- do not compound the argument, and increase the likelihood of its abject, albeit, subjective dismissal, by adding yet another "anomaly" to the mix that is just as hard to accept as the first.

An additional risk in breaking the "One Anomaly Per Paper Rule" is that if one anomaly can be conclusively falsified, its association/affiliation with a second (though separate) assertion, will tend to discredit the second assertion as well.

It would be enough at this point for Formisano to simply ask for consensus on the PFS data proving current life --- period! THAT is the Galileo Event. That is the paradigm shift and world-view change!

But, apparently he is so confident in his PFS team's data indicating current life, and so convinced by the other now acknowledged NASA discoveries of "ancient salty seas, and proposed huge subterranean Martian water reserves," that Formisano is willing to propose a past Mars teeming with life of robust variation and differentiation.

In other words, he must be very confident indeed of his Mars PFS spectral data and analysis … to include that specific term, "extant."

For most professional observers, the announcement of "current life on Mars" -- if based on bullet-proof measurement and mapping of the amounts and distribution of key bio-marker gases such as "methane, formaldehyde, ammonia …." -- would be more than enough. They wouldn't need (or, more importantly, appreciate) additional speculations … regarding presumed properties of this current life that are beyond the demonstrated capabilities of the PFS instrument.

But now, we're concerned that something overtly "political" has happened to the presentation of the material behind his original title, "V. Formisano: PFS Observation of methane Formaldehyde and HS: Extant Life on Mars?" We cannot help but wonder if the New Church of Official Science has once again reeled in its clergy by hook … or by crook.

Another possibility is that such a compound argument might have been more than Formisano's peers could handle, ergo (after some early feedback …), the sudden title change.

Another possibility -- which one of us (Hoagland) is very closely monitoring -- is that Formisano's planned presentation of compelling evidence of life on Mars at Ischia will proceed as planned … but that his title was deemed simply "premature." That his obvious enthusiasm for what he's found, and what it well could mean (so evident in his interview with Linda Howe this Spring) was thought by "someone" to be too far ahead of it's proper political "timing."

We'll not know for certain why Formisano suddenly changed his title (or, had it changed for him) until we hear from Formisano in person and in depth in September. One thing is certain: since just before COSPAR in Paris, in July, when the media were spreading rumors then of a "major life announcement coming from the PFS," Formisano has been more difficult to find than a good five star restaurant on Pluto!

The question of "who" will finally be allowed to announce "life on Mars" -- to usher in a literal New Age for all Humanity -- is palpably accelerating … with the answer now lying firmly in Formisano's Twilight Zone ….

Dr. Vittorio Formisano
ESA photo

*** end ***

    September 19-23, 2004
    ISCHIA Island, Italy
    Organised by: Italian Space Agency

    The very end of 2003 and the beginning of this year may be considered the most important ever in the history of the exploration of our neighbour planet Mars.
    ... promote this 2004 International Conference to become a milestone event.

  • 2) In this regard, see the following articles.
    a) NASA Running Scared: Shooting the Messenger
    b) Ignoring Fossils On Mars
    c) Methane on Mars: Or … 'Back to the Future …?'

  • 3) Formaldehyde, Ammonia and Benzene Molecules on Mars?
    Would Probably Mean Life.
    © 2004 by Linda Moulton Howe
    May 6, 2004

    Dr. Vittorio Formisano: I am not ready to answer this question today ... Because before stating publicly anything concerning other molecules, I want to be sure and discuss with my colleagues and I want to have a reasonable interpretation of the results.


    Dr. Vittorio Formisano:'That is my goal, yes.'
  • 4) Methane on Mars: Or … 'Back to the Future …?'
    By Richard C. Hoagland
    © 2004 The Enterprise Mission

  • 5) The search for life on Mars
    Mark Peplow
    Published online: 27 July 2004
    Methane can only survive for about 400 years in the martian atmosphere before completely breaking down, which means that the gas cannot be a remnant of ancient processes. It is almost certainly still generated on the planet today.
    -- Mark Peplow
  • 6) NASA Scientist Sees Possible Mat of Martian Microbes
    by Leonard David
    posted: 09 August 2004

  • 7) Sushil K. Atreya, Director, The University of Michigan, Planetary Science Laboratory; Mars Express PFS team member

  • 8) The term, "The Strauss Twist," was coined by us to describe the rather bizarre requirement for proving life off Earth as established by Steven Strauss of the Globe and Mail. Strauss is willing to ignore and reject ANY evidence for life derived by instrumentation alone! Is Strauss also willing to publish an article then denouncing all these robotic missions to Mars and these so-called life detection experiments? Is he willing to now publish an article exposing the sham being perpetrated upon to public stating that this NEXT Mission might answer the Life On Mars Question?

    Conditional signs of life on a distant planet
    Globe and Mail Update
    By Stephen Strauss
    I don't want any more speculation about living things based on rumour and four conditional tenses, once removed. I want real evidence. I want real data. I want a real living thing. And so should the BBC, and so should the European Space Agency, and so should NASA and so should you gentle readers. And until it is there, you should turn the page on any article about life elsewhere when no actual life has been found.
    -- Stephen Strauss
  • 9) 'Extant' definition source

  • 10) [appended 2004.08.19]: We are advised that the spelling 'resultats' is French for 'results.' We note the rest of the program is in English, and that Formisano's title changed.significantly.

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