2 0 0 9 P a r i s / M e u d o n

IWCMO Conference

Greg MORT: Mars in Real Time: Can we examine the MARS of yesterday by using

modern methods of today ?


Talk at the IWCMO conference, Paris, 18th September 2009

的t is unlikely that there were real features on Mars even slightly resembling Lowell痴 canals in the first few decades of this century (20th) that have disappeared without a trace as soon as close-up spacecraft investigations became possible. (But) 的 have the nagging suspicion that some essential feature of the Martian canal problem still remains undiscovered.

1980 COSMOS Carl Sagan



f one could travel back in time and view Mars as it was one hundred years ago using modern telescopic equipment might there be information that would illuminate the lingering 鼎anal Enigma ? To date, science has failed to produce such a 典ime Machine, yet there may be a technique to do just that.


In April of 2009, a group of astronomers from Australia used decade old imagery, from the Hubble Space Telescope, called L.O.C.I. (Locally Optimized Combinations of Images) to reduce the glare of stars thus revealing orbiting planets around those stars. This amazing revelation was a delight as well as a surprise to the scientific community. Inspired by this notion I began to wonder if information lay hidden in old Mars photography and could it be coaxed out with contemporary tools.


Familiar to amateur planetary imagers today is a wondrous computer imaging tool known as Registax. Created by Dutchman Cor Berrevoets, and made available as freeware over the internet, it enables an observer to capture live video stream data and then run through the many frames selecting those that contain the most detailed information. This amazing program has allowed amateurs with backyard telescopes to produce stunning planetary detail not even possible by the largest telescopes a few years ago.


With kind co-operation, from the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona I acquired a number of photographic plates taken with the 24 Alvin Clark refractor on 溺ars Hill near the turn of the twentieth century. Most of the images consist of twenty five or thirty exposures on a single plate. These 4 ラ 5 plates were a system used to record as many Mars images in rapid succession in a short amount of time with the hope of capturing a moment of 敵ood Seeing. Many of the plates contain poor quality images making them of little use. Others, however, show more tantalizing details.


Could the Registax program be applied to the dusty old Mars images from decades earlier? It was a curious idea that intrigued me.


After selecting the plates that showed the most promise and cleaning them up on photoshop, (many literally were dusty) I was ready to begin. This took some doing as each tiny 1/8 Mars image had to be isolated as a single entity. I hoped my efforts would prove fruitful.


I realized that the limited number of Mars images per plate was going to be a slight problem. The Registax program works best when several hundred frames can be selected from. (The larger the number of frames, generally, the less 哲oise in the final image production.) To overcome this I repeated the selection a number of times. That is, a group of twenty five was repeated four times, creating one hundred images to run through. This greatly improved the overall quality of the final image before processing. After the initial alignment of each frame and stacking, the program allows the operator to increase contrast, brightness and a function known as 努avelet.


These tools can dramatically enhance even the most elusive, subtle details. The final results were more impressive than I could have imagined and show a Mars very different from the one we can see today. The images suggest a Martian landscape with many more linear markings, a good number, in fact, that seem to correspond to the maps at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. The results clearly show that the observers in those years did see and record features that were more than mere 登ptical illusions or 妬magined markings. True, many of their renderings are exaggerated in that the lines drawn are very narrow and well defined, hard edged. This is due to an effect which I call 典elescopic Compression Subtle, soft edged markings when viewed from a great distance (even much less than 35 million miles) tend to be seen as hard edged more well delineated than they are in reality. The conclusions that were arrived at that the 鼎anals were of intelligent origin of course proved wrong but their 天isual Existence was not a product of wild imaginings, a conclusion often stated by historical examiners of the canal problem.


These results, of course, do raise and interesting question. Where are they now? Why have the fabled 溺artian Canals faded from view? We know that Mars is a place of dramatic dust storms and changing albedo features. Richard McKim, fabled Mars observer of the BAA Mars Section points out in his forward of Telescopic Martian Dust Storms (Volume 44), that the level (amount) of dust on Mars 妬s inexorably increasing with time. To illustrate this I致e included a rendering that demonstrates how even large scale areas (in this case Syrtis Major) (Fig. 1) have undergone significant reformation in a few decades. Even in my personal observing years, (of only 25 yrs.) I have witnessed a rapidly evolving terrain. With each successive opposition I always find it shocking how prominent features have evolved in only two years. So, do any of these so called 天isual Canals still remain? The answer seems to be, YES. There is an excellent example in the diagonally marking, almost always represented on old Mars maps, between Meridiani Sinus and Edom Prom. (Figure 2.) This well defined line shows well in contemporary CCD images. Other examples exist, but the majority of them, I believe have been altered, rubbed out by the relentless Martian winds and dust storms. Are the observers who recorded the bygone data showing a Mars laden with streaks and geometric features at last (in a very real sense) vindicated? Were they actually seeing tangible markings? Have the planet痴 light and dark albedo markings evolved in a more accelerated rate than originally thought possible? Was the Mars of a hundred years ago at least more 鼎anal like visually? Lastly, will the future landscape of Mars be very different than the one we see today? Will other 鼎anal Like features return? Future Mars observers, Mars and Time. not a 典ime Machine, alone will tell.


Greg MORT, Ashton, Maryland, USA



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