"Revealing the True Colors of NASA …."

Part II

By Richard C. Hoagland
© 2002 The Enterprise Mission


So … if its only “blowing dust and buried craters” … why has NASA gone to such elaborate, documented lengths, across so many years and missions, to systematically confuse the situation regarding Mars real colors?  And why are they still doing it … with THEMIS?!

In fact, there’s an even larger, far more fundamental question.

Why, with so much prior evidence gathered in the 1950’s -- that “something” is cyclically altering the Martian landscape, over literally millions of square miles, twice each season, and in a literal “wave of darkening” which extends toward the equator from both poles in their respective Martian Springs … on a planet thought even then to be geologically extinct (the “dying planet” model left by Lowell …) – why was there not more scientific curiosity about what was actually causing such dramatic Martian planetary changes?!

Set against the backdrop of all those Grade-B “invaders from Mars” movies of the 1950’s – and on the eve of the first human spacecraft that could ultimately go there and find out! -- why was there not more interest in “something” so provocatively “Martian” … green … and changing?  “Something” which, for a time, even showed the tell tale organic spectral signature of carbon-hydrogen bonds (and, then, provocatively only in the darker areas -- below)?–

“Something” demonstrating a signature on Earth clearly indicative of living vegetation.  

These provocative spectral observations were carried out at two close Mars oppositions, by Harvard University astronomer, William Sinton -- in 1956 and ‘58!  Why weren’t they ever followed up?  Why was the eventual partial “explanation” to Sinton’s historic organic molecule detection never actually redone -- by later and far more sophisticated telescopic (or spacecraft) observations … including with the Hubble?

The eventual published “refutation” of Sinton’s evidence was that two of “Sinton’s three organic bands” were actually due to an unusual form of “duterated water” in the atmosphere of Mars.  [But, remarkably … only in the darker (vegetation?) areas …?]  Later, the “proof” that Sinton was mistaken in his original organic identification was discovered to have been contaminated by heavy water lines in Earth’s own upper atmosphere – leaving completely untouched Sinton’s original, provocative, organic Martian observations.  But still … no follow up.

And, the mystery of the third “Sinton IR band” – at 3.45 microns, which on Earth is definitely due to organic carbon-hydrogen transitions – also never was resolved ….

Given the prevailing social and scientific climate of the times, as to the likelihood of “some form of current Martian life” -- even if only “lowly vegetation” – the rapid, public shift of astronomers’ perspectives in the late 1950’s … from almost frenzied interest in the subject, to the current “lifeless” NASA Mars … even before the disappointing Mariner 4 images in 1965 … in hindsight is another, most perplexing puzzle ….

Unless, of course, “something else” quietly occurred … “something” that was able to shift all astronomers’ perspectives … through their funding (which, even then, was coming almost solely from the Federal Government … and NASA).

Can you say “Brookings?”

*     *     * 

It is remarkable, given the prior history of intense public and scientific interest, that this increasingly negative astronomical perception regarding Mars as a potential "abode of life" – curiously, led by highly visible NASA-funded scientists … such as Kuiper, Leighton, Sagan, et al – began to change precisely "coincident" (we now know) with the intensely controversial sociological research project being quietly conducted in the late 1950’s for an official NASA document, "The Brookings Report." An official government-sponsored Study which forecast civilization’s ultimate demise … with scientific confirmation of ANY life outside the Earth!

Regardless of whether these two events were mere "coincidence," from that time forward, the Space Agency publicly proceeded along two simultaneous tracks: always dangling the prospect of the "imminent discovery of Life beyond the Earth" (including Mars) at almost every official opportunity and on every NASA mission -- to continue to gain crucial funding from an "interested public" via Congress; while, simultaneously, downplaying every solid scientific discovery which would confirm "it may have found it" … or, even conditions which would make it much more likely.

As I’ve noted in my chronicle of this decades-long "official schizophrenia," "The Monuments of Mars," it’s a clear case of "jam yesterday … jam tomorrow … but NEVER jam today …"

This documented, carefully calculated, blatantly contradictory NASA policy regarding "life on Mars" has continued right into the current "2001 Mars Odyssey Mission" – with its official naming after Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s seminal film about the discovery of life beyond the Earth, "2001." You know, the classic 1968 movie depicting a future "NASA’s" history-changing discovery of extraterrestrial artifacts … which it then promptly "covers up" … because of National Security … including, from the very astronauts sent to investigate the evidence themselves!

Should we be surprised, then, that a Mars Mission officially carrying the mantle of this major "ET cover-up movie" of all time … the famed "2001" … should be behaving a little "peculiarly" itself?

One potential answer to this continuing paradox may lie in the other information that an accurate, official Odyssey color image could provide ….

* * *

The Odyssey THEMIS camera has five narrow-band filters, as can be seen from both the spectrum chart (below), and Table 4.4 from Odyssey's pre-Mission Proposal Information Package (PIP). These bands are unevenly spaced across the visible and near-infrared region of the spectrum (below).

In addition to reconstruction of visible color images from the three shortest-wavelength bands (2, 5,and 3 -- below), the camera also can "see" into the near infrared (bands 1 and 4) – which is where the reflectance data (as opposed to the thermal emission recorded by the other section of the THEMIS camera) most easily indicates certain material compositions of the surface.

According to "Bamf," posting in the MarsNews.com Forum

"The VIS bands were chosen to coincide with discriminating absorption features for several families of ferrous oxides and ferrous silicates, while still being close enough to the human visual system to produce accurate true-color images. The [thermal] IR bands were chosen to coincide specifically with absorption features for carbonates and to cover the range of features for several families of silicates, sulfates and several other families of minerals. Band 10 was chosen to fall in the middle of the CO2 absorption feature for atmospheric monitoring and to facilitate atmospheric removal …."

In light of Jim Heald’s obvious accomplishment – the production of the first Odyssey color image from these filters – his opinion on their selection is equally relevant:

"… Odyssey isn't close [to accurate visible wavelengths], so it's my contention that the idea is to average bands. 425 and 540 to get 450(blue) 540 with 425 to get 520(green) and 654 with 749 to get 680 being RED. Not sure what band 860 is for (scratching head) but it has not shown up in the QUB file as any thing that is remotely usable...??? Now these color bands are compatible with the PSP RGB color combiner. Think the data is very practical and we can get a good idea of what is going on down there... at NASA."

Funny you should mention that mysterious "860-micron band," Jim ….

Note again the apparent discrepancy between the PIP -- which lists "870" as this center near-IR wavelength -- and the current number (860) quoted by Jim Heald, which is the one also listed on the ASU official THEMIS website. If you read Bamf’s statement again – and carefully -- it is implied that the "860/870 micron band" is included in his recitation of the VIS selections …BUT … he then says, "… still being close enough to the human visual system to produce accurate true-color images." And, of course, that cannot correspond to an infrared wavelength of "860/870 microns!" Which means he’s not referring to the two IR bands at all?!

What’s their purpose, then?

Partial confirmation of Bamf’s statement about the mineralogical detections with these filters comes from similar filter selections on a predecessor NASA mission, Mars Pathfinder, which landed on Mars in 1997.. The Pathfinder camera parameters (on the Lander) were published in the JGR-Planets "Special Mars Pathfinder Issue," in late 1996:

"The first objective [of the Pathfinder multi-spectral IMP investigation] is identify the crystalline ferric oxides, oxyhydroxides, the poorly crystalline or nanophase ferric oxides. The major crystalline ferric oxide phases include hematite, goethite, maghemite, magnetite, and lepidocrocite (Morris et al., 1985). The basaltic weathering product palagonite is an example of a material that has visible to near-IR spectral properties doninated by nanophase ferric oxides (Morris et al., 1989,1990). The spectrally diagnostic region for these minerals is primarily in the UV to 860 nm range using 8 of the filters. This allows for discrimination based on four spectral parameters (Bell and Morris, 1995): (1) the position of the ferric iron UV drop-off (diagnostic of goethite, maghemite, magnetite, and lepidocrocite); (2) the position of the charge transfer band near 860 nm (diagnostic of hematite, goethite, maghemite); (3) the presence of a charge transfer band near 650 nm; and (4) the presence of a band between 650 and 800 nm. The depth of features at these diagnostic bandpasses can provide information on the crystallinity of the target material [emphasis added] …."

From these specifications, determination of Martian mineralogy via multi-spectral imaging would appear to have been the primary public objective of Mars Pathfinder … and now (according to Bamf) Mars Odyssey.

But ... is that all?

One indication that there might be "more" … came from a surprising Mars Pathfinder development, announced just this past Spring: the sudden presentation – at the Second Astrobiology Conference, sponsored by NASA-Ames in April, 2002, in Mt. View, California -- of a paper, readdressing the potential discovery of chlorophyll on Mars … this time by the Pathfinder Lander! The find was, according to the researchers, made by a reassessment of multi-spectral imaging data acquired by the Mars Pathfinder IMP (Image for Mars Pathfinder) camera system.

According to the NASA-Ames abstract:

"… we searched for the spectral signature associated with red light absorption by chlorophyll … we plotted a full spectrum for the involved pixels and carefully examined the images. The condition was met for small areas in six image cases. All of these cases occur in near field images, where resolution is highest. Four of the cases occur on the spacecraft and appear to be associated with spacecraft structure. Two intriguing cases occur in small areas on the ground near the spacecraft [emphasis added]."

What makes this so intriguing is that shortly after the Pathfinder landing, in 1997, Pathfinder IMP Principal Investigator, Dr. Peter Smith (University of Arizona), announced the results of an initial multi-spectral scan for chlorophyll … and came up empty.

But, in 2002, members of his own imaging team (this time at NASA-Ames) suddenly announced new findings … totally revising Smith’s initial 1997 negative assessments re chlorophyll at the Pathfinder landing site!

* * *

So, just what is "chlorophyll" – and why is it so important to a Martian "picture story?"

According to a standard definition:

"Chlorophyll is the molecule that absorbs sunlight and uses its energy to synthesize carbohydrates from CO2 and water. This process is known as photosynthesis and is the basis for sustaining the life processes of all plants. Since animals and humans obtain their food supply by eating plants, photosynthesis can be said to be the source of our life also …"

From this, it is obvious that confirmed detection of this crucial molecule -- required of all known plant life here on Earth -- would move both the scientific and political debate re "Life on Mars" to an entirely new level ... including the discussion of "intelligently-designed artifacts." The problem: as we noted earlier, there have been repeated, Earth bound telescopic searches for this critical pigment, going back over a hundred years … the latest (Sinton’s) in 1958 … and none have turned up unassailable evidence for its existence on the Red Planet.

Which makes the announcement of the suddenly "revised" Pathfinder results this Spring so politically "coincidental."

For, only a few months (September) after this surprising NASA-Ames announcement, some media outlets (but, far fewer than carried the Pathfinder "discovery"), carried another "chlorophyll Mars story" -- this time, about the little-known work of a "Dr. Serguei Mikhailovich Pershin."

Pershin is a Russian space scientist, who, in 1985, developed a space borne, remote-sensing laser experiment for the 1988 Russian Phobos Mission. In 1996, another of his experiments – a compact aerosol backscattering lidar ("light detection and ranging" laser instrument), capable of measuring the composition of the Martian atmosphere from a balloon or landed spacecraft -- won a competition for inclusion by NASA on the ill-fated 1999 Mars Polar Lander Mission. (Pershin’s instrument was the first and only experiment from Russia to be flown on a United States Mars mission.)

In 1998, Pershin – utilizing narrow-band images taken with the Hubble Telescope, and computer-processing them as multi-spectral band ratios – initiated the first follow-up to Sinton’s controversial observations in forty years … announcing that he’d discovered strong indications of red chlorophyll pigment fluorescence (induced by ultraviolet solar energy) from certain regions of the planet. These curiously enhanced regions (below, far right) were similar to narrow-band enhancements he’d detected in his laboratory laser experiments, using UV lasers as remote sensing tools to excite the chlorophyll emissions from a variety of terrestrial soil samples.

Pershin’s conclusions, even as a Russian scientist only loosely associated with NASA, were carefully "politic": that he’d discovered only "relic organic pigments… from potentially former living organisms ….", but not evidence of current Martian life. In truth, raw ultraviolet light reaching the Martian surface would quickly destroy any exposed "fossil chlorophyll." So, if Pershin’s results are valid, they have to be produced by living organisms!

His recommendation for follow-up was equally conservative:

"We sure that this approach can be applied for satisfactory relict organic pigments [chlorophyll] detection and 2-D mapping from the Earth or Mars Orbiter without landing using Mars image with high spectral resolution in blue-red range …."

In other words: close-up, narrow-band, multi-color imagery from Odyssey would be a perfect way to confirm Pershin’s pioneering chlorophyll results … if the filters were "properly" selected!

If we examine the spectrum of chlorophyll itself (below), we begin to see some remarkable "convergences" – between Pershin’s understated Hubble data … and the potentially real (though hidden) reason for the selection of the current Odyssey VIS filters.

As can be seen from this spectral graphic, there is in fact more than one type of chlorophyll (the two depicted here are termed "a" and "b"). All are essentially the same molecule, differing only in some side chains and in the type of photosynthetic organism in which they are found. All are essential to the photosynthetic process, and together have complementary abilities to absorb and convert solar energy into crucial carbohydrates across the entire visible region of the spectrum.

According to the Odyssey PIP, the shortest-wave VIS filter (above) -- at 0.423 microns – falls precisely where the well-known short-wave absorption of sunlight due to chlorophyll "a" is greatest! Beside it, the "green VIS filter" at 0.553 microns, is located at the "green peak" in the chlorophyll reflection spectrum (which is why plants appear "green" to human eyes); and the "red band" (at 0.652) is situated just to the long wave side of the "b" absorption maximum, and just to the short wave side of the chlorophyll "a" absorption trough.

In other words – Bamf’s "detection of iron oxides" notwithstanding -- the visible THEMIS VIS filters (selected just after Pershin published his intriguing Hubble chlorophyll results, in 1998), also seem precisely tuned to both detection of standard chlorophyll absorption bands (above) … or … for detecting Pershin’s solar UV "pumped" chlorophyll fluorescence emissions (below)!

If the filtered Odyssey VIS images depicted here are then ratioed in the computer (via ENVI or its equivalent) according to Pershin’s Hubble protocol (above), a remarkable thing will happen -- if Odyssey images a patch of fossil chlorophyll (or, current chlorophyll-containing plants …). As noted, unfiltered Martian ultraviolet (similar to Pershin’s "355 micron" ultraviolet laser pulses – dotted line, above) reaches directly to the surface. Thus -- if chlorophyll is down there – images through the four carefully chosen VIS filters shown here -- properly divided into one another -- will reproduce the same exact ratio (horizontal lines -- above) on Mars, compared to Pershin’s terrestrial lab results!

The chances of this happening "by accident" (look at the diagram, again … and note carefully the slopes of the chlorophyll absorptions and emissions, where the filters have to be placed to create these precise ratios!) is astronomical ….

Thus, a unique determination of the presence of past (or, far more likely, present) living plant life on the Martian surface – and in an image with 18-meters/pixel resolution –will be produced. This, in turn, will heavily – but quietly, judging by NASA’s past performance – influence the entire landing site selection process for future surface exploration … including the upcoming Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Missions, landing in 2004. Unless -- it already has—

And we don’t yet know it.

Oh, and what of that fifth, "useless" 860/870 micron band, discussed before?

If you extend the spectral graph into the near-IR (below), it is immediately apparent that the two near-IR THEMIS bands are also precisely positioned to measure the non-fluorescence, standard infrared spectrum there of chlorophyll as well. The first near-IR band ( 0.751) has obviously been picked to precisely define the so-called "red edge" of Martian chlorophyll-bearing organisms. The so-called "red edge" is defined in remote sensing as—

"The point of maximum slope on the reflectance spectrum of vegetation between red and near-infrared wavelengths … is correlated strongly with foliar chlorophyll content and provides a very sensitive indicator of, among other things, vegetation stress.

"Red Edge" detection has become the key test for the presence of chlorophyll in terrestrial aerial and satellite multi-spectral imagery. It has also recently been tested (via "Earthshine" reflected from the Moon) as a means of detecting chlorophyll in the spectra of distant "extrasolar Earth-like planets".

The second THEMIS near-IR band -- the "useless" 860/870-micron filter (below) – has obviously now been selected for Odyssey as a "control" for the preceding "red edge" confirmation ... to verify the first chlorophyll reflection peak beyond the "red edge" position in the infrared. This will differentiate a successful detection of the chlorophyll signature from potentially confusing iron-oxide spectra ….

Here is an example from Arizona (courtesy of Debi A. Scott) of what infrared photography beyond the "red edge" looks like (below). Note the brilliant appearance of the vegetation (due to high reflectance in the near-IR), compared to the background, iron-oxidized Arizona "Mars-like" rocks ….

Again, that all these THEMIS filter selections and chlorophyll wavelength match-ups could occur "just by chance" … is simply inconceivable.

* * *

It should now be apparent what this latest aspect of the "NASA Mars game" has truly been about:

If the THEMIS team had officially produced a true color image early in the Mission, the entire range of questions regarding its color authenticity, and the reasons for the precise selections of the Odyssey filters discussed here … would have arisen much too soon. And, if there’s one thing we h

ave learned in trying to understand why NASA does anything surrounding Mars … it is that everything must happen on a "timetable."

Is that the reason for this key exchange, between Jim Burk, Editor-in-Chief of MarsNews.com, and "Bamf" a couple weeks ago, even before Heald produced his striking color THEMIS image?:

<Burk> Since there is so much controversy swirling around this particular [color] data, it would be a good idea for the NASA/ASU/THEMIS data experts to perform their own professional processing rather than let just anybody perform the task and possibly be accused of "doctoring" the colors.

<Bamf> I didn't say we weren't doing it, I said we should be capable of doing it by December [emphasis added].

Is Gorelick saying here (again, between the lines) that, by December of 2002, the "timetable" finally will be "ready" for Odyssey’s true color … and the flood of deeper questions that will follow?

For, if Odyssey has quietly confirmed the signature of chlorophyll on Mars, if the "muted green tones" that Heald has now produced are any indication of what we can expect when the THEMIS Team decides to officially announce … the implications are indeed profound.

Remember, the sole function of chlorophyll is "… a molecule that absorbs sunlight and uses its energy to synthesise carbohydrates from CO2 and water." From Odyssey’s other major experiment – the Gamma Ray Spectrometer -- we now know that beneath the salmon colored Martian deserts lies a veritable frozen planetary ocean. And, the atmosphere of Mars, as we’ve known for over thirty years, is essentially pure CO2

Put all these facts together, and suddenly Mars changes -- from the decades of NASA driven "spin" re "an environment hostile to any form of life" (except maybe a few struggling, tiny microbes …) -- to a land of extraordinary possibilities for all varieties of life … including (per the Tidal Model) intelligence itself!

Where even "Arthur’s Bushes" – named for my long-time friend, Arthur C. Clarke (below), who first brought their remarkable existence near the Martian south pole to the attention of the space community --

could now be real.

In the Fifth "2001" Edition of "The Monuments of Mars," dedicated to Arthur’s eerie vision in the making of the film, we ventured the following prediction about "his" NASA Mission:

"Mars Odyssey’s extremely sophisticated color/IR camera … will allow direct testing of this crucial aspect of the model: the Odyssey camera, via its ability to sense up to fifteen spectral bands across the visible and infrared, may directly detect the chlorophyll signature of any Martian plant life currently alive on Mars (Arthur’s immensely controversial ‘trees’ and ‘bushes’) …."

Thanks to Jim Heald, in a few days now -- if Bamf’s "December deadline" is another "coded message" -- we may know ….


Bulletin: "Still Up to Their Same Old Tricks …."

Just as we were finishing this analysis of Odyssey’s expected THEMIS color, JPL finally released precisely such an image, right on cue, in total conformance with their self-imposed "December 2002 deadline" (strongly hinted at by "Bamf," several days ago).

The official "excuse," of course, is that the release was timed for this week’s annual AGU Meeting (American Geophysical Union), being held in San Francisco. Ironically, the major planetary sessions’ theme is titled: "Fundamental Discoveries in Planetary Science: The Color of Worlds I … [emphasis added]." And, in fact, the Meeting began on Friday, December 6th.

In fact, the timing of the JPL THEMIS weekend release is in full compliance with the other Rituals we’ve fully come to expect from JPL ... as December 7th (you guessed it) is another "19.5 date" on the Ritual Calendar they use ….

Anyone amused?

As to the image itself: presented here (below, left) is the JPL official color version … compared to one we simply lightened (below, right), by applying a gamma correction of 2.10. Note that, seen with Jim Heald’s striking prior effort (bottom, left), and an (uncensored!) amateur Mars image, taken with a telescope from Earth (bottom, right), JPL’s concept of what Mars’ color truly is, after almost 30 years, is once again, obviously … way too red.

At this week’s AGU meeting, a paper was presented describing the “scientific” calibration procedures for this initial THEMIS color image: “Calibration and Initial Analysis of Multi-Spectral Images of Mars from the VIS Subsystem on the Mars Odyssey THEMIS Investigation.”  In it, the authors specifically state: 

We validate our derived radiances [Mars surface brightness] by comparing regions observed by VIS and HST/WFPC2 over the same wavelengths and during the same Martian season [emphasis added] ….”

In other words, the authors claim their calibration procedures involved careful comparison of the Odyssey’s VIS imagery with the same regions photographed by Hubble! 

This official procedure is, of course, precisely the same process we followed – in “recalibrating” the published Hubble color Mars imagery (which, as Jim Heald has documented, is anything but “consistent”) with the one standard we found which was consistent—

Uncensored amateur astronomers’ tri-color CCD Mars imagery.

As can be seen by comparing this Mars imagery (above – middle right) with the “corrected” Hubble data (above, bottom right), and Jim Heald’s own pioneering THEMIS color ….

JPL has obviously “blown it” once again!

As everyone can see, just as they did 26 years ago with the first full color Viking surface image, JPL has once again literally destroyed most of the information presented in this heavily distorted version of the THEMIS color -- which, when simply lightened, reveals a remarkable range of myriad subtle shades and saturations actually recorded by the THEMIS camera ….  These colors are obviously more accurate -- when compared with what Mars simply looks like in an amateur telescope -- than JPL’s “official” version … including, several multiple green hues!

So, for JPL, the “color game” regarding Mars apparently continues ….

Now, just what do you suppose the computer-ratioed version of this image also shows … compared to Dr. Pershin’s protocol for chlorophyll?   And, any bets on when they plan to finally tell us that…?

Stay tuned.