Astronomers of the Future Club - May 2018 Meeting Report

by Duncan Lunan - 20:19 on 18 June 2018



Astronomers of the Future Club - May 2018 Meeting Report

by Duncan Lunan



Photo credit - Linda Lunan


At the Astronomers of the Future Club meeting in Troon on Thursday May 31st, the speaker was Chris O’Kane, of the Astronomical Society of Glasgow and the Society for Planetary SETI, talking about the Face on Mars controversy of the 1980s and 90s, on which he has recently published an eBook, “Journey to Cydonia: the First Small Step”, which will be available in print shortly.


Chris first came across the Face when he was at Kennedy Space Center for the first Space Shuttle launch, and happened on a set of press releases from the Viking missions to Mars in 1976. Initially dismissed as ‘a trick of light and shadow’, the feature was discovered from orbit over Cydonia, the prime landing site for Viking 2, which had to be discarded because the ground proved to be too rough. However the resemblance to a human face persisted when it was photographed from a different angle at a different time of day, and unusual features in the landscape around it became known as ‘The City’.


In the 1990s Chris set up a study group of 5th and 6th year pupils at North Kelvinside School in Glasgow, working with original data and software supplied by NASA in one of the first ‘citizen science’ projects on record. In 1996 they discovered a still more unusual 4-sided pyramid, like those of Egypt but much larger, on the same latitude as the better-known 5-sided ‘D & M Pyramid’ and forming a right-angled triangle with it and the Face. Dr. Mike Malin, in charge of photography on subsequent missions, was persuaded to photograph it at higher resolutions and it remains pyramid-shaped, while the Face has proven to be a natural mesa, possibly volcanic, formed 3 billion years ago on the edge of Mars’s ancient polar sea. The ‘City’ has proven to be dotted with Egyptian-sized pyramids, with intriguing geometrical spacing, which are under study by the Society for Planetary SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), headed by Prof. Stanley McDaniel.


The suggestion that the 4-sided feature be named the ‘N-K Pyramid’ has passed the first review by the relevant panel chaired by Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory, who has visited and spoken in Glasgow several times. Features on planets can’t be named after living persons, but as North Kelvinside School has been demolished, it has been classified as ‘dead’ for this purpose. ‘Kelvin Hill’ was also suggested, but neither has yet been officially adopted.


The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club will be on Thursday June 28th , from 7.15 to 9 p.m. at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. The speaker will be Laura Thomas, a science communicator working with primary and secondary schools, on ‘The Moon: our next step in the journey to Mars’.



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