Thursday, January 11, 2007

MRO Images Pathfinder Landing Site

Earlier today, NASA released the first MRO images of the Mars Pathfinder landing site (19.5 degrees N by 33 degrees W). They show, among other things, the lander itself, some of the bigger rocks in the vicinity, and the surrounding area. The context images show many of the familiar features we have come to know and love around Pathfinder, like the Big Crater and the famous "Twin Peaks."

Some of you may remember that several years ago I authored two articles on the Enterprise Mission web site concerning what appeared to be a distant (and artificial) object in the Pathfinder panoramas, apparently at the base of the Twin Peaks. I dubbed this object the "Pathfinder Sphinx."

I was of course immediately attacked by the usual twits (like Mac Tonnies -- do we post anything he doesn't attack out of hand?) who claimed that the object should have been visible in images of the site taken by Mars Global Surveyor. They were of course wrong about that, but in any event I was hopeful that MRO images might resolve the issue.

Today, we got an image that could in fact prove I'm right and Tonnies and his pals are wrong. In the new MRO image, a bright straight line, precisely where I claimed the "Sphinx" was located, is visible at the base of the Twin Peaks. It is casting a distinct shadow, and there is nothing else in the image that is anywhere near as straight or casting a similar shadow. Unfortunately, the context image that I am drawing from is nowhere near the maximum resolution of the MRO camera, which can see objects just a few inches across. Only a small enlargement of the Pathfinder lander itself was released in full resolution. The context shots are "high resolution jpegs" -- a laughable term in any event.

So far, NASA has not released a full resolution version of the entire image strip, and it may not be easy to obtain one. But based on today's image and the anomalous nature and (perfect placement) of the shadowed object, I'm willing to bet it will show that we're right, and Tonnies is wrong.

That makes it about:

Enterprise 87 - Tonnies 0

We'll see.