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January 23, 2004

Not an artist’s representation.

“A landscape which has been predominantly shaped by the erosional action of water.”


Spectacularly vivid photographs from the European Space Agency’s “Mars Express” orbiter. This shot of a 3km-deep caldera is stunning as well. (Via Tristero.) [04:35 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Not an artist's representation.:

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 06:55 PM:


On Spirit's troubles, I'm sure everybody's thinking the same thing:

"Oh, DAMN it, Spirit opened an email attachment in Outlook Express that was an executable."

Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 07:11 PM:

Higher res versions, additional images, and movies here.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 08:17 PM:

Right purty.

I wonder if "angle shots" are possible . . .

A mission to Mars might be worth the cost if we can send John McPhee along to describe the terrain.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 08:45 PM:



Steve and I are biting our nails over Spirit's technical difficulties. I keep having these fantasies that they'll work some kind of techie magic to get Opportunity to land near it, and they'll get Opportunity to roll over and transmit a hack to fix Spirit.


Much funner to be able to write the outcome we want, than to depend on the whims of Fate.


PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2004, 10:29 PM:

Whoa. Those are sweet. I called my boyfriend over to look and now he's grabbing them for reference textures and colours--he's a video game artist, and since he often has to paint very sci-fi stuff, he loves shots like these.

Dave Pentecost ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 01:39 AM:

That is the sexiest picture I've seen in a long time. Something about the promise of life and fertility in that bare planetary face that gives the primal urge a surge. Or is it an Oedipal memory of Mama Mars?

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 09:44 AM:

It's not an artist's representation, but it should also be pointed out that it's not exactly an accurate representation, either. That nifty-looking blue-black strip at the bottom is false color, I believe (in typical fashion, you have to infer this from the fact that one of the pictures on the BBC page is labeled as being "in the true colours of Mars," and it's significantly more drab than the others...).

Which is not to say that they aren't incredibly cool pictures, but they'e a little deceptive in the way that incredibly cool astronomy pictures tend to be these days.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 10:12 AM:

I figured all of the pictures were color-enhanced in some way. I'm not sure I'd call that "deceptive" exactly, since the idea is to make real things more visible. Wouldn't the Martian landscape look significantly more yellow to-the-naked-eye than most of the shots we've seen, going back even to Viking?

I suppose if someone were selling package tours based on the idea that Mars looks exactly like this, then the adjective would be right...

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 11:09 AM:

I recall a con panel with an actual planetary scientist who had Viking Lander pictures. Those had a red wire in front of the camera lens, precisely so that there would be a known colour to calibrate the landscape against.

The 'right' landscape was the brilliant red one, as it turned out.

So at least some parts of the Martian landscape really are very red.

The pictures are really, really cool -- the three kilometer high dust fall in particular is an expansion of the degree of wonder in the universe -- but they also make the erosional features look possessed of a Precambrian antiquity, ancient beyond worlds.

So they don't make me at all hopeful for the search for life; I think it will have to be a search for fossils.

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 11:19 AM:

I figured all of the pictures were color-enhanced in some way. I?m not sure I?d call that "deceptive" exactly, since the idea is to make real things more visible.

My threshold for calling things "deceptive" is pretty low, especially when it comes to scientific matters. It's not like they're going to bilk little old ladies of their Social Security checks by coloring the pictures the way they did, but the specific choice of colors is practically guaranteed to create a false impression among some of the people seeing it.

"Water on Mars? Of course there's water on Mars-- why, I can see the river at the bottom of that canyon..."

This is minor stuff-- not remotely on the Jan Hendrik Schoen level-- and it's a staple of PR everywhere (it's not deception, it's advertising...), but it does bother me a little that they aren't more careful about how they present these pictures.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 11:42 AM:

When I was Executive Vice President of Palo/Haklar & Associates, at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, one of my tasks was to upgrade our beta version of the edutainment CD-ROM "Voyage Through the Solar System." I negotiated with the Planetary Society, which objected to some astrology narration (i.e. "Neptune, the water God; it has two moon ...). I gave out free copies at the Winnipeg Worldcon, got it to Locus, got rave reviews, and won a "green light" from the #1 CD-ROM Distributor for a sequel I produced "Voyage Beyond the Solar System."

However, the narcotics-dealers/producers Palo & Haklar kept tweaking the "false color" of all the planets until they were unrecognizable, except by astronauts on LSD. The Planetary Society and others gave up in disgust.

Don't go to palohaklar.com, as the producers seem to have sold their domain name to a p0rn site in St.Petersburg, Russia. I could tell you stories about The Casting Couch, and exploited "interns" -- but I feel pretty exploited myself. False color, false consciousness.

Since last time I posted, I've traced my teachers' teacers' ancestry back to 24 generations ago, the 1400s, when Fallopius (who invented the condom) studied Islamic Medicine at the University of Montpellier.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 11:50 AM:

Chad, are you serious? You think anyone with an IQ above room temperature would think the dark stuff at the bottom of the canyon is water?

Maybe you're right. I keep forgetting that I spent half my childhood in the desert Southwest; that picture registered instantly as "residue of water flow," not "water."

Oliver Morton ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 11:52 AM:

I'm afraid Graydon's not quite right on the redness. Though at times the Viking images were presented as being really red, when the final colour balancing was done (it took years to calibrate everything properly) they came out as being a "moderate yellowish brown" according to the arcane but internationally agreed conventions for reporting colour. Pathfinder found exactly the same thing, but was able to assign a separate colour to the rocks: "dark grayish yellowish brown".

That said, they're great pictures -- and the notion that the camera should provide pictures this good of the entire surface boggles my mind. The people at ESA are, as Chad suspects, spinning things a little, especially with the talk of a "eureka moment" and discovering water -- I've blogged on this disingenuousness myself. But they have a hell of a spacecraft there.

Oliver Morton ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 11:57 AM:

Sorry, that should have been "I've blogged on that myself"; people pimping their musings ought to get the html tags right...

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 12:11 PM:

Chad, are you serious? You think anyone with an IQ above room temperature would think the dark stuff at the bottom of the canyon is water?

I don't think a lot of people would think that, but based on what I hear from the astronomers in the department, that would be one of the more mildly idiotic things said at some of their public events.

Most people wouldn't go as far as to believe that the dark stuff was actually water, but it does create a different impression than the true color would. It's definitely "sexier" in false color, to paraphrase an earlier commenter.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 02:06 PM:

Oliver Morton's comments remind me that I've been meaning to blogroll his Mainly Martian, an excellent source for comment on all things Mars. Discerning readers will know Morton as the author of the excellent Mapping Mars.

Zizka ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 08:28 PM:

I agree that there are people who will really think that that's a picture of water. Probably lots. And it will go from there, too. Messages in the Sumerian alphabet. Remains of Soviet missile bases. Lemuria.

As far as that goes, the non-water part seems a little to much like some kind of life form. Sort of XXX, actually, like it was weird alternative Martian genitalia.

Oh wait -- I think that about everything.

However, I have a satellite picture of Eurasia which has obviously had the colors tweaked. (I also presume it's a composite map). But it gives you the most fantastic immediate perception of the layout of the continent -- land, water, forests, mountains, deserts, semideserts, farmland. Something I have a good basic knowledge of, and yeah, it's artificial, but they did a fantastic job.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2004, 10:23 PM:

I knew Stu Nozette, who wrote speeches for VP Dan Quayle. Stu quit after Danny boy improvised on live TV something along the lines of "Mars has canals, and where there's canals, there's water and oxygen..."

Water in Mar's polar caps makes for a great neutrino telescope, as I first suggested in print. As do the icecaps of Mercury.


Mercury Precursor Missions

pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2004, 01:39 AM:

Look's like Spirit is doing better now, following a reboot:

spacetoday.net article

Charlie Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2004, 10:58 PM:

The color photos from the rovers should be pretty reliable -- the tchnology is better, and they've got a pretty extensive color-correction scheme set up.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2004, 03:30 AM:

My wife and I had dinner with Dr. Geoff Landis and his wife Mary Turzillo. Not just because of their various Hugos and Nebulas (although that made for some amusing discussions of the pitfalls of coauthoring with one's spouse), but because there in Pasadena for the experiments Geoff has on both Mars rovers.

I figured I'd find out more from him than from the TV or web about what was going on, Mars-wise, while Cheney and Gore et al. bask in the glory of what others accomplished.

The puzzle Geoff's wrestling with today is that the degradation of the solar cells on the rovers, mostly from dust settling on them and sticking, is at exactly the same rate as on a previous Mars lander in a different place with a different atmospheric pressure in a different Mars season with a different amount of dust above at high altitude. The more things are different, the more they stay the same. To two decimal points accuracy. Strange.

Well, my wife and I are both teaching tomorrow, so I should clean the kitchen and get some sleep. Geoff's on Mars Time, and has drifted to be briefly in synchrony with EST, though we are in PST.

I know what a multicoastal relationship is like, and a multicontinetal relationship, but this comes close to science fiction -- the multiplanetary relationship.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2004, 12:40 PM:

...like it was weird alternative Martian genitalia.

Oh wait I think that about everything.

Zizka, thanks for brightening my Monday morning!

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 28, 2004, 05:53 PM:

Jeremy Leader and Zizka:

Would it be right to say something about Men from Mars and Women from Venus? Or something about Heavenly Bodies? Or something about the Black Rings of Uranus? No, I didn't think so... Never mind...