Video: Does Google Mars show life on red planet?

  1. Closed captioning of: Does Google Mars show life on red planet?

    >>> an accidental find on google mars has one california man claiming that he may have discovered life on the red planet . and he calls it biostation alpha. it is this, if you can see here, white, rectangular speck as we zoom in on it with google earth . by this man's estimation, the speck of white is actually a manufactured structure that measures 700 feet long, 100 feet wide, and may be used as living quarters for whom or for what he cannot say. i'm joined now via skype by david martins, the man who discovered biostation alpha. who do you think lives there?

    >> i don't. i'm not sure. i don't know. i couldn't say. it is just a very interesting structure. i might have made some suggestions in my video that maybe i shouldn't have alluded to. but i honestly don't know either way or -- this is not a conspiracy theory for me at all. this is just very interesting subject.

    >> i got it. how did you find this? were you going through all of the video on google mars and you describe yourself as an armchair astronomer. do you have any training as well?

    >> no, i don't. that name was given to me by the sun, actually. they were the first ones to use that term. i just went to google mars and i started zooming in and out, and just by accident i landed right on top of this. i zoomed in and landed right on top of it and marked it. and that was actually probably eight months ago.

    >> and you've now received hundreds of thousands of people have come to watch this one video of this white speck. let me read something from nasa . they just issued this statement to us. they say, mars surface images have been thoroughly studied by nasa scientists and researchers worldwide. while nasa applauds the public's interest and fascination of images of the red planet , there's no scientific evidence or data to confirm a structure on the surface. so they seem to be answering some of the questions that are out there, in the video you have there, is that just some rocks or not?

    >> well, it is hard to say. according to mr. mckeown, who runs the high rise project, he doesn't know which camera took the image. and he also doesn't know where the raw data is. so until you can actually find that and sort of compare it, it is, i don't know.

    >> and is that where you leave it? i don't know?

    >> yeah, until i can get there, actually physically, you know, i'm just basically --

    >> well, david , if you do get there physically, bring a camera with you and if you can just tweet a couple of shots for me, i would love to see them. but nevertheless, it certainly put a smile on our face to discuss the pictures that you have there. and the possibility of a structure being on the planet mars . david martins, thank you for your time.

    >> thank you.

updated 6/6/2011 4:00:26 PM ET 2011-06-06T20:00:26

A self-described "armchair astronaut" claims to have identified a human (or alien) base on Mars. David Martines noticed a mysterious rectangular structure that appears to be on the Red Planet's surface while trolling the planetary surface using Google Mars, a new map program created from compiled satellite images of the planet.

This is a video of something I discovered on Google Mars quite by accident," said Martines, the armchair astronaut, in a now-viral YouTube video. "I call it Bio Station Alpha, because I'm just assuming that something lives in it or has lived in it."

He zooms in the surface anomaly — a long, pixelated, white object — and lists the coordinates as 49'19.73"N 29 33'06.53"W. "It's over 700 feet long and 150 feet wide. It looks like it's a cylinder or made up of cylinders," he says.

David Martines was perusing the surface of Mars using Google Mars, a mapping program, when he saw this "mysterious object."

Has Martines really found evidence of alien life, or a secret space base, as he and some media sources are claiming? No, say experts: "Bio Station Alpha" is simply a glitch in the image caused by cosmic energy interfering with the camera.

"It looks like a linear streak artifact produced by a cosmic ray," said Alfred McEwen, a planetary geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona and the director of the Planetary Imaging Research Laboratory. McEwen is the principal investigator of the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), a powerful telescope currently orbiting Mars.

Cosmic rays are extremely energetic particles emitted by the sun and other stars. For the most part, the Earth's protective magnetosphere blocks them from hitting the planet's surface, McEwen explained. "But with space images that are taken outside our magnetosphere, such as those taken by orbiting telescopes, it's very common to see these cosmic ray hits. You see them on optical images and a lot of the infrared images too," he told Life's Little Mysteries.

As a cosmic ray passes through a camera's image sensor, it deposits a large amount of its electric charge in the pixels that it penetrates. If the particle passes through at a shallow angle to the plane of the camera, it affects several pixels along its path. The result is a bright streak on the image.

The digital compression software that converts the image into a JPEG file then "sort of smears out the image, giving it that pixelated look," McEwen said. What started as a clear streak in high-resolution turns into a streak that, in the armchair astronaut's words, looks like it is "made up of cylinders."

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McEwen said that the cosmic ray streak would be much easier to recognize in the raw, pre-compressed image, but many orbiters and telescopes have contributed imagery to create the Mars map, and Google doesn't identify the source image.

"I can't tell whether this image was taken by Viking or what," McEwen said. "The people at Google need to document what the heck they're doing. They should be able to identify what the source of their information is, and let people know so they can go back and look at the raw data."

Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover.

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