Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Facing Facts

On the 25th of July 1976 the Viking One orbiter took what should have been another routine image of the surface, but in fact set in motion one of the best-loved and most intriguing conspiracy theories yet developed. The image was of the so-called "face on Mars", a feature that looked distinctly man (or should that be Martian) made. NASA scientists were in fact the first to make the light hearted observation that it looked like a face, but also were quick to point out that the "face" was simply the result of random chance. The orbiter was looking down on that particular spot in such a way that the sun caught a natural feature and amplified the rock formations into the now iconic features. But the image was just too darn alluring, and set in motion an enduring myth and a mini industry of believers who have since spent considerable energy searching the surface for new features, even after the face was pretty well debunked by subsequent images.

There are now entire websites devoted to finding new anomalies on both the surface of Mars and the Moon, and as the images flood in from Mars, there are rich pickings to be had and plenty of scope to accuse both NASA and the ESA of covering up (doctoring) images to hide what the amateur investigators say is plain and obvious evidence of a alien construction on our neighbouring worlds. It all sounds a little desperate and certainly I think they are seeing what they want to see, (I’ve looked at dozens of these images and just can’t see anything untoward) but I have a little private bet with myself that it might yet be one of these amateurs who spots something that the more strait laced scientific community might overlook or even dismiss.

I certainly don't think they've found anything yet, but look at how web communities (and especially Bloggers) have worked together in recent years to investigate where the media fear (or are too incompetent) to tread - the case in point being the fake documents purporting to show Bush in a bad light during his National Service days. That same energy is being applied to the search for proof of live out there, and it would be just wonderful if some guy (or gal) in their spare room made the big discovery. There are just so many images coming in from Mars at the moment that something might easily slip past the scientists, so watch this space. In the meantime, the ESA have re-imaged the face and produced a lovely and pretty damning 3D movie of the rock formation that started the whole thing off. You can see it on the ESA site.

Monday, October 30, 2006

1938 Radio Broadcast celebrated

Many groups and origansations have been celebrating the Orson Welles broadcast of The War Of The Worlds, which terrified many thousands of listeners on the Halloween night of October 30th, 1938. Two events of note come from West Windsor, where can of course be found the unassuming little hamlet of Grover's Mill, the original Martian beachhead as selected by Howard Koch, the writer of the 1938 broadcast. On Saturday the 8th, the David Sarnoff Library in Princeton NJ hosted a live re-enactment of the infamous radio broadcast. Rather brilliantly, the broadcast used original vintage radio microphones provided by the New Jersey Antique Radio Club. Tonight, the 30th of October, local artist Donna Clovis and students from High School North will present "Powers From Pluto", which is an updated version of the broadcast which features television and the internet as the conduit for terror. Anyone interested in tickets can find contact details here.

Other celebrations of note:

WTBQ 1110 AM hosted a live open to the public recording on the 28th.
Los Alamos Little Theater is presenting a stage version of the broadcast tonight (Oct 30th) and several other performances in the coming week.
Pauls Valley Arts Council is doing what sounds like a very interesting stage play, that not only re-enacts the broadcast, but tells the behind the scenes story as well. You can catch a performance tonight (the 30th) at the Pauls Valley High School, Oklahoma.

Mission To Mars

The Mars Society, an organisation whose stated aim is to further the goal of the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet, is soon to announce the crew of seven that will depart in May 2007 for a simulated mission to Mars. The project, known as the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, is located in the high artic, on Devon Island, Nunavut. It was chosen because the inhospitable environment is as close to Mars as you are likely to find on Earth. The project, which will run between May 1 through August 31, 2007, will allow scientists and engineers to study the Mars-like climate and conditions of the polar desert and to explore the human impact of long-term isolation in a harsh, cold environment. More information can be found at the Mars Society website.

Biggest every panarama from Mars

In celebration of over 1000 days of successful operation on Mars, the Spirit rover (the original mission plan called for an effective life of just 3 months) has completed a huge new 360-degree panoramic view from its winter resting place, a small hill known as "Low Ridge, which has been home since April. The stop was required as the reduced sunlight of the winter months on Mars precluded any significant activity. The panorama was compiled several pictures at a time every few sols (a Martian day) over a total of 119 sols. The McMurdo panorama (as it has been dubbed) shows volcanic rocks around the rover, Husband Hill on the right, the El Dorado sand dunes near the hill and Home Plate below the dunes. Two rocks, right of center, are believed to be meteorites. The total volume of data transmitted back to Earth exceeded 500 megabytes. A variety of mages are available at the NASA Spirit homepage in both regular and 3D formats.

Mars rover revolts

Satirical webzine The Onion is reporting on some odd and worrying behaviour on Mars by the Spirit rover. After 3 years on the red planet, The Onion reports that the rover may be getting tired of the repetition of its daily routine. Dead give aways include up to 1000 messages a day saying simply "no water" and for 3 days running, the rover has transmitted images of the same rock with the accompanying message, "Happy Now". "Spirit has been displaying some anomalous behaviour," said Project Manager John Callas, though this is to underplay some of the more worrying quirks now plaguing the multi million dollar project, such as using its robotic sample collection arm to make obscene gestures back to mission control. The full story can be found at The Onion. (Warning, contains some expletives.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Simpsons to fight War Of The Worlds

The November 5th episode of The Simpsons will be celebrating Halloween with another of their now annual "Treehouse Of Horror" anthologies. The Simpsons has a laudable tradition of spoofing famous (and not so famous) science fiction ideas (perhaps the best was the Treehouse Of Horror story that remade The Twilight Zone episode "It's a good life") and this newest episode (Treehouse of Horror XVII) promises to be the best yet. "The Day the Earth Was Stupid" is going to be a Simpson take on the Orson Welles radio broadcast of 1938, but this time it will regular aliens Kang and Kodos take advantage of a similar radio panic to invade Springfield. The story is also intended to be a comment on the situation in Iraq, with Kang and Kodos expressing surprise that they have not been welcomed with opened arms by the residents of Springfield. "Don't worry says Kodos, "we still have the people's hearts and minds," and holds up a brain and a heart. Look for a full review here after the episode has aired.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I Spy Opportunity

Extraordinary images are once again coming in from Mars. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has managed to snap an image of the Victoria Crater, on the rim of which can be seen the Opportunity Rover. You can see a large size labeled image from the orbiter by following this link. It is also fasinating to be able to see images taken on the ground by the rover of the Victoria crater rim. The images give an amazing perspective on the situation. The Victoria crater is by far the biggest feature to be explored by the rover and scientists are already getting excited by the layering (upwards of 50 feet) seen in the crater walls which are sure to provide new insights into the geological past of Mars. After traversing the rim of the crater, it is hoped to be able to find a relatively easy route down into the crater itself.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds DVD

Fresh from a highly sucessful run of performances across the UK, the stage version of the Jeff Wayne musical version of The War Of The Worlds is to be released on DVD. There will be two versions made available, a single disc and a double disc special. There are going to be a significant number of extra features on the double disc edition, including features on Making A Martian Fighting Machine, ehearsing "Thunder Child" and "Bringing Back Burton", which refers to the way in which the production brought back to life the much missed Richard Burton in the form of a stage projection. The double disc set will also include a 12 page booklet with exclusive photos from the show. The release date for both discs is November 6th.