Proof! Bio Station Alpha is Just an Image Artifact

by Nancy Atkinson on June 11, 2011

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The streak on Google Mars misinterpreted as a secret Mars base.

It’s time for another episode of “Conspiracy Theory of the Week.” This one involves a supposed secret space station on Mars. The You Tube video showing “Bio Station Alpha” (below) went viral and was even reported on some mainstream media outlets. The station is supposedly a 700 ft x 150 ft structure on Mars and by some accounts is colored white with blue and red stripes. It was found on Google Mars by an “armchair astronaut” and breathless conspiracy bloggers have touted this as the most important discovery on Mars yet, and “proof!” that NASA is hiding their activities.

In reality, this is not a space station, a Mars base or any type of structure – created or natural — on the surface of the Red Planet. What shows up in this location on Google Mars is just a smattering of about 11 bad pixels from data dropout – a linear streak artifact likely caused by a cosmic ray hitting the Mars Express spacecraft while it was taking the image – and then that smudge has been badly distorted through image processing when it became part of Google Mars.

“This looks like a cosmic ray hit,” said Tanya Harrison, planetary scientist on the science operations team for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Context Camera (CTX) and Mars Color Imager (MARCI) at Malin Space Science Systems. “We see these from time to time in the MARCI data from MRO.”

Here’s the image that is seen on Google Mars after processing, which includes very noticeable compression artifacts:

And now here’s the original image taken by the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera image (H5620_0000_ND), taken on May 18, 2008 (and here’s the link to the original image):

Original Mars Express HRSC image of the location in question on Mars. Credit: ESA

This image really makes it clear this is an image artifact from a cosmic ray hit.

Here’s the same location taken by the MRO Context Camera (CTX) on January 25, 2010 (a crop of the same location as seen above from the original large CTX image, available here):

MRO's Context Camera (CTX) image MRO CTX B17_016407_2528_XN_72N029W of the same location. Credit: MSSS

In this image, each pixel represents a distance of about 6.25 meters, a higher resolution than what is available from the Mars Express spacecraft, which takes images at 10 meters per pixel. Obviously, there is no structure or anything unusual at that location, except for the northern polar sand dunes.

Harrison explained that the CTX acquires grayscale (black & white) images at 6 meters per pixel scale over a swath 30 kilometers wide and provides context images for the MRO HiRISE and CRISM cameras, which can take even higher resolution images. It is used to monitor changes occurring on the planet, and help the science team select critical science targets. The team at Malin Space Science Systems pores over the images looking for anything unusual. In this case, at this location, they found nothing.

“Every day, the images we acquired with CTX and MARCI the previous day are inspected by multiple sets of eyes,” Harrison told Universe Today. “We look at every single image for multiple reasons: checking the health of the instrument, monitoring weather conditions for future targeting of the cameras, and looking for anything geologically interesting.”

Harrison added that nearly all the operations folks on the team have Master’s degrees or Ph.D.s in geology or a related field.

“If we spot anything out of the ordinary, we look at previous images of the area, not just from CTX and MARCI, but from the Mars Global Survery’s Mars Orbiter Camera, the THEMIS VIS and IR on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, the HRSC on Mars Express, and Viking,” Harrison said. “This lets us look at the features at different illumination angles, times of day, resolutions, etc. We know better than to speculate on something below the resolution of our cameras, so if we see something in CTX that’s worth following up on at a higher resolution, we ask HiRISE to shoot it. The same thing was true for MOC, following up on things observed in the low-resolution wide angle images with high-resolution narrow angle images.”

Clearly, this region has been imaged and examined previously, with absolutely nothing found by the top experts in the field. The region is so uninteresting that no one has requested for HiRISE — which can take images of 1-2 meters per pixel — to take any images of this area.

Harrison said CTX takes images of Mars that are up to 30 km wide and over 300 km long at a very high resolution. “This is a pretty big footprint with a relatively high resolution compared to previous cameras!” she said. “The size of that footprint has allowed us to cover over 60% of Mars at 6 meters per pixel in the 5 years MRO has been orbiting Mars. In addition to mapping, we use CTX to acquire stereo coverage of key areas, as well as to monitor hundreds of locations on Mars for changes such as new impact craters and dust activity.”

If there were something unusual on Mars, the people at NASA, ESA, MSSS and anyone monitoring Mars would have imaged this site repeatedly with the best cameras available. They would love to find something unusual, groundbreaking and front-page worthy, and if they did would be shouting it from the rooftops, not hiding it.

You can hear Harrison talk about how the images taken by the various Mars orbiters require meticulous planning, on the June 1, 2011 episode of 365 Days of Astronomy.

MSSS is comprised of several small groups which all contribute to designing, building, and operating cameras on orbiters and rovers at other planets.

If you want to see the image artifact on Google Mars, here are the coordinates: 71 49’19.73?N 29 33’06.53?W

And, if you must, here’s the video by David Martinez:

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Lawdog June 11, 2011 at 3:48 PM

I’m sorry that you had to go to so much trouble to refute a random nutter playing around with Google Mars. I’m sorry that the people who believe NASA has a secret Mars base that they (oops) forgot to hide from Google will assume you’re part of the conspiracy.

Harold Tessmann III June 11, 2011 at 4:01 PM

You have a typo: “This looks like a comic [sic] ray hit,”

Jeffrey Scott Boerst June 12, 2011 at 10:21 AM

Not a typo… I believe they were referring to comedian, Ray Lipowski… hahaha….

Oliver T Welch June 12, 2011 at 8:04 PM

other notable comic rays: ray romano. every body loves raymond

Laura Tattoo June 11, 2011 at 4:47 PM

i like the typo. :>>)))

David Sharp June 11, 2011 at 5:50 PM

Let’s just send a mission there to prove him wrong.

Anonymous June 11, 2011 at 9:45 PM

I received all sorts of emails and texts from well-meaning friends telling me about this one. Oh dear…

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE June 12, 2011 at 12:18 AM

I believe assume that you’re Australian, so are you old enough to remember Alternative 3, a fictional hoax television programme that was broadcast only once in the United Kingdom in 1977 and then later broadcast in Australia?

Anonymous June 12, 2011 at 11:34 AM

Hi Ivan – yep, Sydney-based Australian. I’m 29, so I didn’t have the pleasure. Maybe it’s on youtube? I looked it up on Wikipedia – looks like good value!

Anonymous June 12, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Hells yeah it’s on youtube! Going to watch it now…

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE June 12, 2011 at 8:39 PM

At the bottom of Wikipedia’s Alternative 3 article, you can find links to high-quality video streaming under the section “External links”.

Jacob Pember June 12, 2011 at 5:24 AM

When will people realise that Mars is just as interesting (if not, more so) as an untouched planet without trying desperately to see things that don’t exist?

I am constantly blown away by photos from the surface or orbit of Mars, and it’s not because there’s bizarre landing crafts and Bio-Stations littering the surface.

Jeffrey Scott Boerst June 12, 2011 at 10:20 AM

…and don’t forget about RCH’s “Panzer Tank” that’s there as well… Please! lol.

Anonymous June 12, 2011 at 6:54 AM

Individuals who are fixated on finding signs of habitation on Mars may be missing the beauty and artistry of this weather sculpted world. Personally, I rather enjoy the images rather than dissect them.

Anonymous June 12, 2011 at 11:37 AM

P.S. Bio-Station Alpha? What kind of wanky name is that to come up with?!

Anonymous June 12, 2011 at 12:01 PM

Y’all do realize from the perspective of a conspiracy scientist, this whole text sounds like a huge cover-up too?? ;)

Anonymous June 12, 2011 at 12:33 PM

The really big “radar signature” that is missing is any appearance of such a program in the Congressional budget. A program to put something like this on Mars would cost many $trillions. That would be a little hard to hide or launder into other programs, even the military.

This is clearly transient noise in the instrumentation. As suggested this could be a cosmic ray energy deposition on the CCD. Typical of such claims, from UFOs to death comets and Kevorkian mother ships hiding in cometary tails this has a low signal to noise ratio and can’t be repeated.

LC

Marc Groothedde June 13, 2011 at 8:26 AM

Assuming it did exist, your proof of funding would assume it is american it could just as easily be a left over russan program or perhaps even chinese or even more likely a commerical program by a private company. Honestly you would need to know the nature of the structure and not just the size in order to determine a price tag, but some comemrical applications using inflatable structures and local martian materials put the price as low as 5 billion for such a mission assuming you were expecting the colony to be self supporting and a one way trip for those involved.

That being said, given that the american government would have no interest in letting the public know if someone had beat them to mars, if it were an actual station it would be easy from them to cover up the data and come up with a cover story. However, on the other side, has anyone found any earthside data to support such a martian project being launched, You would think a project of such ambition would have had some leakage.

John Giordano June 12, 2011 at 5:17 PM

I think NASA would be more careful, if it was a base,just like God was going to pass judgement on us.

John Giordano June 12, 2011 at 5:38 PM

people want something or someone to believe in, like Heavens Gate, Jim Jones,and Charles Manson, and all organized religion,which is an organized cult. Goodness comes from inside of you!

Davi Marti June 12, 2011 at 9:03 PM

Like I say in my video, It would be difficult to pull off a project like this without people seeing all the material going up. I stand by that comment.
David MartineS.

Steve Keightley June 13, 2011 at 1:42 AM

“If there were something unusual on Mars, the people at NASA, ESA, MSSS and anyone monitoring Mars would have imaged this site repeatedly with the best cameras available. They would love to find something unusual, groundbreaking and front-page worthy, and if they did would be shouting it from the rooftops, not hiding it.”

1st sentence true. I choose to be cynical about their willingness to shout anything hinting of non-terrestrial intelligence “from the rooftops”. Might we speculate that the level of NASA that images Mars is no longer a civilian enterprise? Think the movie, “Contact” or Hoagland’s Monuments of Mars. Let’s see some other “linear [cosmic ray] streak artifacts” from other pictures, especially ones where the artifact contain pieces at right angles to each other.

If it is a base, how did it get there? Who built it? Secret NASA?

Richard Seltzer June 13, 2011 at 3:01 AM

Interesting. So whatever appeared in the image to begin with did not appear later. that means that it isn’t a permanent structure/building. But it could have been a temporary structure or a space craft or something else capable of movement.

Richard

Anonymous June 13, 2011 at 9:43 AM

Smart guys, these aliens, it was really cunning that they constructed it so that it was perfectly aligned horizontally in the image and in just the right location so that it fell entirely on a single row of pixels.

Chris Langan-Fox June 13, 2011 at 6:11 AM

Hello. Its a cosmic ray hit on the eqipment. Just missing pixels. Weapon? Garage? Purpose? Weary space travellers? Gordon Bennett.

Anonymous June 13, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Even if this were a base, why would NASA/ESA/secret space agency build it in such a boring place?

Anonymous June 14, 2011 at 5:35 AM

Icrowell… Have you ever seen a “UFO”, an unidentified flying object? I have… twice. Notice I did not say “flying saucer”. I still can’t explain them. Don’t be so eager to deny the existence of extra-terrestrials. Any one with an IQ over 105 (the average IQ of physicians in this country) knows… KNOWS …that life must exist elsewhere in the galaxy. Only religious nuts think humans are the only life in the universe. I agree that we couldn’t put such a structure on Mars in secret. The “artifact” looks too structured to me to be a gidgy. Let your imagination fly. By the way, my BS was a Chemistry/Biology double major. My PhD was in cell bio from Berkeley and I got my MD from The University of Miami School of Medicine and did a 4 year residency in OB/GYN.

M June 15, 2011 at 4:20 AM

Ive, seen this so-called “proof” photo- you know where? on aother guys site, who purposely deleted six pixels to white to try to mimic the real Bio Station Alpha. The truth- it looks nothing like the real discovery. This image shown is not from NASA, and it is fabricated. seriously, compare the two. The fake white pixels are aranged in a strait line. Lets try again guys.

Justin Hartberger June 15, 2011 at 4:54 PM

The statements/evidence seem rather counter-productive to being used to disprove a conspiracy theory. Stating things that say they couldn’t be bothered to get the higher res image of the area and saying that if they had ‘found’ – how do you ‘find’ something if you put it there yourself? – something they would be “shouting from the rooftops” – not very conclusive since you obviously don’t shout secret projects or even talk about them in public period.

It’s a simple enough one to disprove too…the next time HiRISE is in the area, snap a shot and post the raw image. The only other image that doesn’t show this anomoly provided is almost a year and a half old. They could even pair that with a few archived photos of other cosmic ray hits for comparison.

They appear to instead talk about this as if it were some alien habitation conspiracy instead of a terran habitation conspiracy. There’s a big difference between things we discover and how it’s disclosed to the public versus something we put there ourselves and don’t want anyone to know about.

I don’t believe the conspiracy theory for a second, but all this type of disproving will accomplish is to egg them on as is does little to nothing to show them they are wrong and causes more questions and concerns in the mind of a conspirator than it answers.

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