Sloppy Science on Mars

Mars rover finds "puddles" on the planet's surface, New Scientist

"If confirmed, the existence of such ponds would significantly boost the odds that living organisms could survive on or near the surface of Mars, says physicist Ron Levin, the report's lead author, who works in advanced image processing at the aerospace company Lockheed Martin in Arizona."

Mars rover finds puddles on Mars?, Planetary Report

"The white square shows you where the image comes from. It's in the middle of Opportunity's Burns Cliff panorama, on some of the steepest slopes that Opportunity saw before arriving at Victoria crater! Those can't be puddles -- unless the amazing "liquid" that puddles here on Mars in a freezing near-vacuum also has antigravity properties. A less sensational hypothesis is that the smooth "fluid" that fills local lows between rocks on this sloping surface is fine dust."

It's kind of astonishing to me that anyone could present a paper of this nature without having checked the spatial context. They must have assumed that the surface that the rover was observing was horizontal, like so many surfaces in Meridiani Planum. It may even have been "horizontal" with respect to the rover's deck -- but the rover was sitting on the same slope that it was photographing at the time the images were taken. It shows you how dangerous it can be to attempt to do science from partial data."

Editor's note: Emily Lakdawalla has deftly demolished this latest claim by the Levin family. If I get this right, Ron Levin apparently did not bother to learn that the photo he thought was a flat portion of the Martian surface with a puddle is actually a photo of a sloping cliff inside a crater. And Lockheed Martin pays this guy to do their imagery? That's a little scary to contemplate.

I wonder why such "discoveries" by the Levin family never manage to appear in professional, peer-reviewed scientific journals - and end up in engineering journals - and sometimes only in meeting abstracts - instead?

It's at times like this when I feel the need to bring back this NASA Watch oldie but goodie ...

Hydroelectric Dams on Mars, (much) earlier post

Editor's Update: No puddles on Mars, New Scientist

"I want to retract the claim in the paper that the smooth area we discussed was 'standing liquid water'," Levin acknowledged on Tuesday. "I am sorry that we made such a large mistake."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on June 12, 2007 4:38 PM.

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