Sunday, January 18, 2009

The white ghost

When NASA's Phoenix lander touched down on Mars on may 25, 2008 (sol 0), one of the first photo's it sent to earth was this one. I scanned the photo and found a white, vertical thing near the horizon shown in detail below.

I was really excited about this, was I looking at a Martian??? So I asked an astronomer, what it could be. The astronomer, who was less excited, sent me back a really, really short, dry mail (1 sentence, no name, no greeting) indicating to me that it was probably the heatshield of the lander. I had the impression that he thought I was a fool.
I was a bit disapointed of course, and when NASA posted this photo, showing the surroundings of the lander I thought the guy was probably right, and that it was the either the heatshield, or the parachute I had seen.

And when this mosaic (sol 0-sol 3) was posted, showing a diagonal, white thing at about 157 degrees (southeast), detail below, I thought the heatshield must have tipped over, and I thought the astronomer was probably right. On all subsequent photo's the same diagonal white thing can be found at the same location.

Now, half a year later, I was looking at the photo's again, and I wondered if the first white, vertical thing I had seen, was really the same as the second diagonal one.

How could I find out? I compared the photo's for a long time, trying to discover similar rocks, similar terrain, but I could not prove prove or disprove anything.

Until this morning.

Check out this photo. This is a mosaic of all the photo's gathered by the time of sol 2 (in the beginning-days of the mission). It can clearly be seen, that the first image, the one containing the white vertical "ghost" is located at about 0 degrees(North) (although the white ghost has disappeared in the pasting process), and NOT at 157 degrees (Southeast) where the heatshield/parachute is.

All my excitement came back to me at once and I combed throught the Phoenix photo's for more evidence. But wherever I looked, the ghost could not be found again. For example, check out this detailed mosaic, taken from sol 13 till 47, and look in the north (the upper side of the photo). There is nothing. The ghost has disappeared. No ghost, no vertical thing, nothing.
This means that something must have moved up there.

What is it? What can it be? Why is no-one talking about this? Am I foolish asking this questions? I don't think so.

My guess for now, is Phoenix took a picture of a martian dust-devil, but I'll have to do some more research, before I can be sure. More on this in tomorrow's post.

One lesson already to be learned from this: never believe an astronomer who is not enthousiastic. Always be conspicous.
Update: I have sent the astronomer an e-mail, asking him to comment on this. I hope he'll answer...

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