A Closer Look at a Distant Place
by R. Nicks
Twin Peaks-Mars Part II
After about five months of reviewing images from the Mars Pathfinder mission,
including striking, new, high-resolution images released November 4, 1997,
it now seems reasonable to update some of my observations regarding the
twin peaks. The following discussions are generally centered around
the same topics (shapes of the hills, breaks in slope, orthogonal patterns,
etc.) as those presented in the original `A Closer Look at a Distant Place'
posted on the `enterprisemission' web site.
Although in an early NASA Pathfinder press conference Dr.
Peter Smith a Principal Investigator for the mission, originally
postulated a couple of geologic scenarios for creation of the twin peaks.
As yet, I am unable to find any follow-up, in-depth discussion of the
geology by NASA as promised at that press conference by Dr. Smith.
At the time of the press conference, Dr. Smith indicated that among NASA
priorities regarding the mission, the geology of the twin peaks was of
great interest, and information regarding same was forthcoming.
However, the specific scientific measurements and analyses seem to concentrate
among other things on such findings as high Silicon content of some of
the materials near the lander, which somehow was translated into high
quartz content, which in turn was postulated as meaning some of the rocks
are `andesite like'. Unusual in my estimation, as andesite is notably
lacking in quartz. Regardless, this seems to me as though
it's an example of multiple, compounded errors in judgment attempting
to fit snippets of information into what may be outdated theses.
Albeit trite and overworked the phrase `can't see the forest for the trees'
seems to have some application.
With the release of the recent high-resolution images some
of the questions raised in my earlier analysis are answered, but some
questions remain, and indeed, others arise; especially with regard to
`south peak', the one to the left in the image. It now seems as
though much of the detail that I discussed with regard to orthogonal structure
in `north peak' and the apparent absence or at least muted nature
of similar structure in the peak to the south, was simply a function of
the south peak being somewhat farther from the camera with the attendant
loss of resolution. Now, with the newly released November 4 images,
the same striking orthogonal structure can be seen in the south peak as
well. South Peak and its attendant orthogonal structures, although
apparently subjected to catastrophic degradation, retains a degree of
complexity, and organization that is striking.
Click on this image to get a larger 400K original.
In my initial study I went to some length discussing various
breaks in slope along the edges of both peaks. Regarding south peak,
the break in slope is especially noticeable along the left edge.
The new images clearly show why this is so. There is a clear `stair-step'
set of well defined orthogonal features, much like large blocks that can
be seen descending the slope. These features are plainly evident
below the horizon (essentially beginning at the break in slope), are orthogonal
in form, and are oriented in such a way as to make difficult any explanation,
of which I am aware, that could ascribe them to computer compression
artifacts. The `blocks' are uniform in nature, are not
randomly strewn, but rather `stacked' in a regular identifiable pattern.
Orthogonal patterns, and blocky `textures' are readily found
in nature. However, in my experience, they tend to be associated
with features that, on a larger scale than the individual `blocks', display
similar symmetry. In other words, the shape of an overall structure
is in a very general way reflective of the shapes of smaller components
that make up the overall structure; said differently, you wouldn't typically
find in the natural, physical world, square or rectangular blocks being
the constituents of largely triangular structures. Triangular (or
conic) structures do occur in the physical world, but almost inevitably
as a result of erosion or some other outside force that has altered the
original shape. If one can accept that, then it is hard to explain
why relatively well defined, orthogonal blocks would be evident along
the edge of an apparently conical structure. After all, the edges
are subjected to the greatest potential for erosion which creates the
conical shape in nature. Yet, at south peak we have an edge of a
triangular (or at least conical) hill comprised of sharply delineated
orthogonal blocks. This remains difficult to explain based solely
on geology and geomorphology.
The new images of south peak also show some striking vertical
structures that are complex and irregular in their location about the
slope, yet not chaotic. What do I mean by that? Perhaps an
analogy would help to clarify what I am trying to describe. Consider
a picket fence. If some of the pickets were removed in a random
way, and some of the pickets were re-nailed at varying elevations making
their tops and bottoms uneven, that would leave the fence with a `gapped
tooth', up and down, `complex', type of appearance. Yet the fence
would still be easily recognizable as a fence, even though its is
irregular, but certainly is not chaotic. That is what I am
trying to describe with regard to these vertical features on the face
of the south peak. They appear to trend up and down
the face of the peak as well as across the face. Their height appear
to diminish with distance (perhaps just a relic of perspective), and some
have what looks like inverted `L' shaped extensions at their tops.
They appear to be somewhat `delicate' or spindly--all things considered--and
are to me totally anomalous with regard to any geologic or geomorphic
process. Regardless, how such features could be generated naturally
is not in my experience; perhaps others can explain.
I find that trying to describe the geology or geomorphology
of the twin peaks is a less than trivial task. Could it be that
the peaks themselves do not lend themselves to geologic descriptions because
geology may not provide the appropriate set of tools with which to shape
a description? Based on the apparent lack of any in-depth, public,
geologic discussion of the peaks by NASA, perhaps they too have reached
a similar conclusion. Without some definitive answers to the questions
I raise regarding the observed features I have discussed, the serious
researcher is left to their own devices without any input from the one
agency that could provide the answers; or have I simply not yet looked
in the right place?
So that I might not fall into the `not see the forest for
the trees' trap by concentrating too closely on one or two features, I
have chosen to analyze not only the peaks themselves, but features more
readily discernible in the middle and foreground of the high resolution
images, as well as in the same area of image 80881. This ongoing
analysis continues to raise some questions regarding even more fundamental
geologic or geomorphologic considerations.
In previous studies I have mentioned `pointy stuff'--not
very scientific but at least descriptive. Not only is the `pointy
stuff' anomalous, so are the blocky objects that appear in somewhat localized
areas in 80881 and in the high resolution images. This is the reason
why the apparent anomaly. If indeed the materials in the foreground
and middle ground of the images are a product of transport during massive,
catastrophic flooding from the highlands hundreds of miles distant, then
how is it that the orthogonal blocks so evident in 80881, and similar
orthogonal structures in the high resolution image of the south peak,
seem to have retained relatively sharp edges, and little damage to corners?
Furthermore, if wind and the attendant `sandblasting' is the principal
erosive force acting on these features, why have they retained their linear
edges, whereas other items appear to be smoothly rounded, and locally
eroded. Is it possible that these features appeared after the flooding,
and not as a result of the flooding? Or perhaps we are looking at
features of vastly different composition that are differentially susceptible
to some sort of corrosion, rather than erosion? If all of the materials
are essentially of the same or similar composition i.e. rocks, then they
should erode similarly, even if at perhaps different rates, given the
same erosive agent. They obviously don't. It is a little bit
too much for this investigator to assume that wind would erode orthogonal
blocks of the same material and leave them scattered about the countryside
in a myriad of orientations. It is also difficult to accept the
postulated transport distance with minimal damage to the edges of the
Above I broached the possibility of corrosion as opposed
to erosion. This is a major consideration in light of the following
discussion. The planet Mars is `red' and that has been recognized
for some time. On Earth, the red coloration is typically attributed
to an oxidation product of iron. There are many red beds throughout
the world, probably most noticeable of which are those of the Triassic,
or at least the Mesozoic--a time in our past that was generally, based
on the fossil record, much wetter, and more lush than now in the places
where these red beds are found. The major corrosive agent that creates
the red coloration seems to be oxygen. The question is: Was
oxygen the principal corrosive agent on Mars at some time in the past,
and if so, where did it come from, and where did it go? As yet,
I do not have any pat answers to those questions.
Research into the topics discussed above is in progress,
but to sum up findings to date I make the following conclusions:
1) There are more similarities between the structure
and composition of North Peak and South Peak than I first thought.
2) The similarities between the two peaks center around an understanding
of the orthogonal structures present on both features which present an
anomalous arrangement of organized, complex geometries and symmetries.
3) It is not yet clear that all of the features that we are seeing
on the floodplain were transported from the Martian Highlands hundreds
of miles away, to their present resting place. (Some of the features
may have come from the peaks)
4) The overall shape of the south peak being conical is not readily
resolved when you consider that the surface of the cone is a series of
orthogonal blocks stacked in a pyramidal shape--a situation that I believe
argues strongly that we are not aware of similar terrestrial analogs that
are naturally occurring.
5) NASA, in the absence of any definitive treatment of the geology
of the twin peaks may have reached the conclusion, that geology may not
be the appropriate tool with which to describe the features. Perhaps
architecture and engineering are more appropriate.
Given the above conclusions, if I were to not have the opportunity
to look further and continue my research, I would at this point be about
90% certain that the twin peaks and much of the material strewn about
the floodplain, is not of natural origin with regard to well known and
understood geologic, and geomorphic principles.