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PFS Ammonia Spectrum

Formisano's Twilight Zone
Part 1: Ammonia by Any Other Name

Richard C. Hoagland
David Sadler

[Posted 2004.08.10]
[Last revised 2004.08.19]

We will be called " space conspiracy theorists " (again …) for pointing this out, but—
 Something very strange is swirling around the Martian atmosphere these days ...

 We are preparing an in depth look at the entire " Mars atmospheric composition controversy " and what it means, but this short notification couldn't wait for all the data points in the longer piece to be confirmed.  The points (below) are self-evident.  For the moment then, we will simply make the reader aware of their perplexing conflicts ....

European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express Orbiter
Platform for the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS)
A combined mission between the ESA and NASA

PDF Format
HTML format

Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) Instrument
Dr. Vittorio Formisano, Principle Investigator
ESA photo

  • POINT 1:  The Mars Express Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) Principle Investigator is Dr. Vittorio Formisano.  Dr. Formisano's own abstract, submitted to COSPAR 2004 Conference, is titled, " FIRST RESULTS OF PFS (PLANETARY FOURIER SPECTROMETER) AT MARS "
Dr. Formisano authored this abstract.  These are his own words (or, we think they are -- since his name is on the abstract).  Included in this abstract is this important statement:

" The high spectral resolution [of the PFS] allows us also to identify a number of small signatures which possibly will bring us to the identification of minor compounds (at the moment a good candidate is ammonia). " (1) 

Point 1 is that the PFS Principle Investigator is on record by his own hand, in his own abstract prior to COSPAR, suggesting that
" Martian ammonia is a good candidate for measurement " by the PFS instrument. 

Mars Express PFS Spectrum
Copyright 2000 - 2004 © European Space Agency graphic
Last Revised: 10-Feb-2004

  • POINT 2: The European Space Agency (ESA) just published a time-averaged Mars Express PFS Spectrum for orbits " 10 through 72 " -- thus indirectly " announcing " that NH3 (ammonia) has been definitively measured in the Martian atmosphere (above)! (2)
Point 2 is that these now public measurements of Martian atmospheric ammonia (NH3), by the Mars Express Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS), are completely consistent with and confirm Dr. Formisano's " FIRST RESULTS OF PFS (PLANETARY FOURIER SPECTROMETER) AT MARS " pre-Conference abstract, submitted to COSPAR 2004.

Why isn't this headline news!!!

  • POINT just published an article titled, " The Search for Life on Mars, " authored by Mark Peplow.  In it, Peplow specifically states that Dr. Formisano denies that ammonia has been found by his spectrometer on Mars!
" He [Dr. Formisano] now insists to [email protected]
that he has not detected ammonia... "
-- Mark Peplow, " The Search For Life On Mars, " –-
This article was published immediately after COSPAR … and months after the ESA publication of ammonia. (3)

Point 3 is that this Nature article asks us to believe that Dr. Formisano is now emphatically contradicting his own COSPAR abstract … and, the official ESA publication of his own PFS data – data obviously confirming that ammonia has been detected on Mars!

We have sent several interview requests to Dr. Formisano through separate avenues, and eagerly await his " return from vacation " to ask him personally to clarify this increasingly bizarre situation.  Until then, we are giving Dr. Formisano the benefit of the doubt.  He has been quite verbal over the past few months concerning trace gases, minor species and the prospect that —

Measurements and mapping of methane and ammonia likely signals current  biological life on Mars.   

Dr. Formisano's COSPAR abstract is totally consistent with this expectation of " ammonia. "   And the recent ESA publication of his own PFS data -- from " orbits 10 through 72 " -- confirms its presence and insitu measurement.

Evidently ammonia was a " good candidate " after all ….

How could Mark Peplow ... and Nature ... get it so wrong?

We take special note that Nature's article does not quote Dr. Formisano directly, denying with his own words the now-confirmed detection of ammonia -- ammonia that the ESA published in February, according to the date at the bottom of the PFS Spectrum web page..  Instead, we have Mark Peplow telling us this is Formisano’s current " position ":
" He [Dr. Formisano] now insists to [email protected]
that he has not detected ammonia... " (3)
-- Mark Peplow, " The Search For Life On Mars, " – 
" Insists! "  

That's strong language ... considering that ESA published PFS Mars spectrum that has included ammonia since February 2004!

Then, the on-line Nature article inserts their only direct quote from Formisano:  
" They want to shoot first, and they shoot the wrong statement. "
-- Dr. Vittorio Formisano, quoted in " The Search For Life On Mars, " –-
What does THAT mean?  Did you see any mention of " ammonia " in that quote?

Obviously, there is more here than meets the eye.  And that will be the subject of our next installment -- once we’ve located Dr. Formisano ... in whatever " Twilight Zone " he is visiting on his " vacation " .... 

Dr. Vittorio Formisano
ESA photo

*** end ***

  • 1) FIRST RESULTS OF PFS (PLANETARY FOURIER SPECTROMETER) AT MARS. [Vittorio Formisano] // pdf download
    PFS is a Fourier spectrometer developed for Mars 96 first and for Mars Express later. Mars express was launched from Baikonour on June 2, 2003 , and reached the Martian orbit on December 25 , 2003. The spectrometer covers the wavelength range from 1.2 to 5 microns and from 5 to 50 microns. At Mars we have operated the experiment on 20 orbits roughly, up to now. A power problem on the spacecraft and the poor familiarity with the needed complex operations have reduced the number of possible activities. A total of less than 5000 spectra have been collected up to now. The 15 microns CO2 band allows us to retrieve the vertical temperature- pressure profile from a single spectrum. A case will be shown in which the orbit was passing over the Olimpus Mons (a 25-27 Km volcano). The same band (by means of the multiple Q-branches) allows us to identify and study the abundance of the CO2 in all the possible isotopic combinations (16-12-16, briefly 626, but also 627, 628 , 728 , 828 , 637, 638 and so on). The atmospheric minor components CO and H2 O are well measured in many bands or groups of lines, from 300 cm- 1 to 7500 cm- 1 . The high spectral resolution allows us also to identify a number of small signatures which possibly will bring us to the identification of minor compounds (at the moment a good candidate is ammonia).Depletion of CO over the big volcanoes and enrichment of H2 O indicates a possible photochemical process which reduces the carbon monoxide mixing ratio. Soil features are observed over the South polar cap, indicating the presence of CO2 and H2 O ice, while in other areas, like the Gusev crater, where the Spirit rover is operating, there is indication of idratation of the soil minerals. The main problem for further studies is the poor knowledge of the solar spectrum, measured (indirectly) from space for the first time with PFS in certain IR spectral regions. 

  • 2) Mars Express PFS Spectrum
    Copyright 2000 - 2004 © European Space Agency. All rights reserved
    Last revised: 10-Feb-2004

    One composite PFS spectrum generated from over 1600 measurements. Revealed is the detail of the existing data and indicates some of the unanswered questions. The gaseous species are indicated: CO, CO2, H2O, HDO, NH3 , S is for solar line. The solar spectrum is essentially unknown in half of the PFS region - these are the first space measurements at medium spectral resolution of the solar spectrum. To determine if a line is of solar, or martian origin is a challenging task. There are many regions with features detected that are not yet identified.

    The spectrum consists of 16 separate image and the vertical scale changes from image to image. 

  • 3) The search for life on Mars
    Mark Peplow
    Published online: 27 July 2004
... Did they not also see ammonia?

Definitely not, despite recent stories to the contrary. Formisano has been hotly pursued by journalists since reports about Mars Express finding ammonia in the atmosphere began to circulate earlier this month. He now insists to [email protected] that he has not detected ammonia, although in a recent conference abstract [pdf file] he had optimistically suggested that his team might have done so. This suggestion alone was enough to set tongues wagging, but some reporters were too eager to turn suggestion into certainty, Formisano says. " They want to shoot first, and they shoot the wrong statement. "

  • 2004.08.19: correct the publication date of the PFS Spectrum. While we can not be sure when it was first published, and while we can not authenticate its last revision date, the last revision date must be accepted in lieu of better evidence.

    A February posting of this NH3 determination is incredible and strengthens our case. General knowledge of this page did not surface until July!

    Below are 'proofs' that the ESA Mars Express page was at least revised in February, 2004.
/* Documented arguments for the page being posted in Feb 2004 */
Posted by: blairfreebairn
August 3, 2004 09:22 PM

The spectrum linked to was produced almost six monthes ago
* the esa site conveniently numbers articles chronologically and
* the article id [[[fobjectid=34633]]] places it in mid-Feb [[[see URL with ID below (dss)]]]
* as does the 'last updated' field on the index page that links into the article, and
* also the source HTML of the page lists Feb 2004 as the source date [[[see html source below (dss)]]]

So we seem to have a tentative id of ammonia in Mid-Feb followed by the April earthfiles interview.

And then frantic public retractions in June/July coupled with rumours of a *big* paper coming up in Nature soon.
/* Mars Express PFS Spectrum URL with Article ID */

/* SOURCE CODE META TAGS date the page at 2004.02.10 */

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