Does This Photo Show Trees on Mars?
Mars Coverage 1/15/10
By: Chris Capps
When this photo reached the public, there was a quick moment of suspicion that there were lush snowbound forests on Mars that had somehow been covered up for so many years. The structures displayed in the image definitely appear to be tall conifer type trees or evergreens that are dealing in their own way with the frigid temperatures. Is this photographic evidence of a secret forest on Mars?
Unfortunately, they are not. The large black columns spotted erupting from the white ice is no more than an optical illusion. Many viewers, when looking at the photo heard this and couldn't believe it at first. The photo clearly seems to show three dimensional objects spilling up from the ice in a display very similar to the formation trees have. Even the clumping together seems to follow the ecology of evergreen trees in hostile mountainous environments, seeking out areas with water present. Still, experts are quite confident that this image from another angle would show something quite different, and it would become apparent that what appears to be a three dimensional object in these photos is likely nothing more than a trick of light and shadow.
MRO's cameras have in the past picked up images that later turned out to be quite controversial. In addition to mysterious structures such as pyramids, images have been sent back to Earth of the red planet with features that have been interpreted as everything from a giant face pointing up to the stars to an entire city in the dunes of Sedona. And just last summer an image returned to Earth that appeared to be a microscopic person dressed in a strange sand-faring burlap garment of some sort. Recently the image was reevaluated and officially declared to be no more than a rock.
Though this image too may turn out to be no more than a simple trick of light, the question comes up, what would scientists do with an image that seemed to the casual unbiased observer to be completely irrefutable evidence of an alien presence on Mars of some sort? Would experts at this point pull back and say, "The other stuff was bogus, but this seems to be genuine," or would they continue denying with stories becoming ever more ridiculous to the point that more faith was involved in denying the story than actually believing an intelligent presence could exist somewhere somehow on the red planet. Of course this is just a question of what-if's and doesn't necessarily support in itself the concept of life on Mars, but is merely food for thought.
Ultimately the photos from Mars are sending back surprises all the time. How long ago was it that we thought not a single drop of water existed on the surface of the planet? Now we're debating a mysterious image that has been sent back and entirely ignoring the ice plainly in view in the foreground of the image because ice on Mars is now considered old news? What else in our future will likewise be benignly ignored?