Mystery of Mars’ Polar Spirals

‘Before each revolution, all the pegs seemed square and all the holes round. In each case, it was not until it was realized that one had to discard the whole frame of reference and seek another that answers came in a flood. ..It is not our methods nor our observations that have been wrong, but our whole attitude.’
– J. Tuzo Wilson

There is an attitude in geology, a legacy of James Hutton in the 1780’s and later the lawyer, Sir Charles Lyell, which says ‘the present is the key to the past.’ It is a complacent mantra of uniformity that allows trivial forces such as surface erosion to be extrapolated back over stupefying time spans to give the illusion that geologists understand the processes that have shaped the Earth. This attitude is now being applied to Mars. It resulted last week in a claim to have solved the mystery of the spiral patterns at that planet’s poles. The real mystery is why anyone considers a simple computer model that produces spiral patterns solves the many puzzling details of the Martian polar caps. Furthermore the claim comes too late. The explanation was outlined last August on this website (see below).

The geologists’ uniformitarian creed has become anachronistic. As soon as they accepted that the Earth has suffered global catastrophes in the dim past the attitude should have changed to THE PRESENT IS NOT THE KEY TO THE PAST. Instead it has been business as usual. After all, geology becomes very rickety when that central support is taken away. So the computer model mentioned above extrapolates a slow process back in time over millions of years. The result is trivial because no one is going to be able to verify it and it is easy to falsify.

It will be the unusual, one of a kind event that upsets such complacency. And some of the strangest reports come down from antiquity. Given the extremely short time we have been making modern scientific observations, it seems plain good sense to make use of human experience of the natural world as far into the past as we can. Such an investigation must be forensic in style and not restricted to geology or astronomy. It should rely on observation over theory. When that has been done we can perhaps have more confidence in theories about the Earth and other planets.

In December 2003, one of the most important scientific papers ever published appeared in IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON PLASMA SCIENCE, VOL. 31, NO.6. It is titled Characteristics for the Occurrence of a High-Current, Z-Pinch Aurora as Recorded in Antiquity, by Anthony L. Peratt, Fellow, IEEE.

Anthony Peratt

Anthony Peratt

You may be forgiven if you missed it. Hidden behind the usual unexciting academic title is a bombshell for science. It provides definitive evidence for the electrical nature of the Earth and the solar system. But the biggest surprise for geologists and astronomers is that modern prehistoric humans witnessed in the heavens a cosmic scale electrical discharge involving the Earth. How can we be so certain? The author is an authority on the behavior of the most powerful electrical discharges unleashed by man. Such discharges develop instabilities (the kind of thing that has defied all attempts at producing hot fusion power). Plasma physicists know them as ‘Peratt instabilities.’ The importance of these Peratt instabilities for our forensic investigation is that they evolve through extremely complex and distinctive shapes. Globally, prehistoric man preserved those forms on rock in the form of petroglyphs, like still frames from a movie. The petroglyphs show a highly unusual event ‘ a cosmic electrical catastrophe. And because the instabilities are three dimensional, it is possible to determine their location in the sky through the perspective depicted. The discharge was polar, hence the ‘aurora’ in the title.


Abstract': The discovery that objects from the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age carry patterns associated with high-current Z-pinches provides a possible insight into the origin and meaning of these ancient symbols produced by man. This paper directly compares the graphical and radiation data from high-current Z-pinches to these patterns. The paper focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on petroglyphs. It is found that a great many archaic petroglyphs can be classified according to plasma stability and instability data. As the same morphological types are found worldwide, the comparisons suggest the occurrence of an intense aurora, as might be produced if the solar wind had increased between one and two orders of magnitude, millennia ago.


Peratt uses carbon dating and a recent plasma extraction dating method by Rowe and Steelman for pictographs to estimate that the intense auroras ‘occurred within a time period of 10,000 BC’2,000 BC.’

Peratt’s paper has ramifications far beyond plasma physics, but because it does not support the attitude adopted by other specialist fields, I predict we will not see it featured in Nature or Science anytime soon. The author sidesteps the highly contentious question about the origin of the intense auroral current by attributing it to the solar wind. But an increase in solar electrical activity by several orders of magnitude would be accompanied by an increase in solar radiation of the same order. The Earth and its prehistoric artists would have been char-grilled! The serious researcher must search for a more realistic explanation of global events.

It is known, but not widely reported, that gravity acting alone can only produce a chaotic solar system. The solar system cannot be a Newtonian clockwork. But the question of what stabilizes planetary orbits has not been asked. Meanwhile, for those who understand the ancient mythic theme of planetary gods hurling thunderbolts, we now have rock-solid human evidence that gargantuan cosmic electric discharges have occurred prehistorically between the Earth and another planet. And it is this hidden electrical nature of planets and the solar system that ensures its stability. It is hidden because plasma in space is capable of electrical shielding, provided two bodies remain far enough apart. The electric shields are given the misleading name of magnetospheres because they trap the planet’s magnetic field inside too. In extremis the electric force prevents impacts between planets, but the price is high. Interplanetary thunderbolts cause terrible electrical damage in the form of cratering; huge canyons like Valles Marineris; and raised lightning blisters like Olympus Mons. Mars is a battle-scarred planet ‘ as befits the ancient god of war.

With this additional background, my statement, in Mysterious Mars (August 2003) gains firm support.

‘…Mars was also depicted by the ancients as sitting within a glowing tornadic column for a period. That would explain the huge swirling erosion patterns at both of the Martian poles. It also means that the polar caps are only about 10,000 years old and probably still accommodating to Mars’ ‘new’ environment. The puzzling difference between the northern and southern hemispheres of Mars is explained simply if the north pole was the cathode in the tornadic electrical exchange. Material would then have been removed from the northern hemisphere to give the low, flat and relatively uncratered terrain found there.’

Mars' south pole

The south pole played an anode role and would have suffered deposition. It sits on top of a high altitude dome and tends to have equator-facing scarps instead of canyons. The south polar deposit (SPD) is delicately layered. An ‘unexpected finding’ was abundant small pits close to the bounding scarp of the SPD. Some have been neatly overlaid by the SPD. There is no sign that the bounding scarp has moved like a glacier or weathered to fill the pits. The abundant circumpolar pits in the south lack the raised rims expected of impacts. They exhibit the alignments of so-called ‘secondary crater chains.’ There are no such things. All linear arrangements of craters are the result of an arc moving across a surface. Both the pits beneath and the delicate layering are the kinds of things we should expect if the SPD was electrically deposited.

The SPD is quite distinct from the circum-polar sand and layered deposit at the north pole. The difference between the two polar caps is very important. Bruce Murray of Caltech wrote:

‘The increasing recognition of differences between the two caps has progressively made a straightforward global alternation in aeolian deposition of suspended sediment between the two poles (driven by obliquity and eccentricity changes) a less likely explanation, though it once seemed so appealing. However a new paradigm has not yet emerged to explain the rapidly growing body of information.’
(Icarus 154, 80-97 (2001))

The differences between the north and south poles on Mars make a single geological explanation for them both unworkable.

Mars' north poleThe north pole of Mars sits on top of a dome that is almost 3km above the surrounding surface but is still 2km below the average elevation at the equator. A colossal amount of material has been machined from the northern hemisphere. In effect, the polar cap is the central peak of a hemispheric-sized crater. The enigmatic grooves and ‘chasma’ in the polar caps are a natural consequence of travelling arcs. They have been carved up to a kilometre deep into the polar caps. Their marked difference in size is explained by differences in the power of the arc. Their tendency to a spiral form is due to the rotating Birkeland currents that form the arc. There are other examples of a spiral or corkscrew effect in craters on Mars and the Moon. Unconformities have been noted in the exposed layering of the north polar deposit (NPD). That discounts the idea that it was formed like a ‘layer cake’ by cyclic deposition due to some unspecified climatic oscillation effect. It is a remnant of exposed subsurface rock like that found as peaks in the centers of most large craters. The NPD has been described as resembling cottage cheese, with a flat pitted and etched surface. As I showed in the earlier news item, such pitting and etching is characteristic of a cathode surface.


As an example of the possibilities of this interdisciplinary pattern matching approach, here are three images:

Heteromac plasma instability

This is a "heteromac" type plasma discharge instability. Heteromacs can include filamentary, cellular, and bubble-like clusters.

Ship of heaven

These are Scandinavian petroglyphs of the "ship of heaven." You can also find examples in North America and elsewhere, even away from any water.

Mars south polar layered slope

Here, numerous layers are seen in the south polar region. The pattern has no geological explanation but it matches closely the heteromac instability pattern.


Cover, Thunderbolts of the GodsFor more information see the introductory draft of the forthcoming book THUNDERBOLTS OF THE GODS.


 

This recent news report is offered for the reader to judge who has solved the ‘mystery.’

Mystery of Mars’s giant icy spirals solved

18:33 26 March 04
NewScientist.com news service

 Mars' polar spirals

Mars' spirals model

The model (below) produces the right spacing and the right curvature (Images: Jon Pelletier/Mars Global Surveyor)

Giant, icy spirals found uniquely on Mars’s polar caps are the result of the red planet’s peculiar combination of temperature, tilt, and thin atmosphere, suggests a new computer model. The concentric whorls, hundreds of kilometres long, were first spotted by NASA’s Viking spacecraft in 1976, but scientists did not know how they formed.

Now, Jon Pelletier, a geomorphologist at the University of Arizona, US, has developed a surprisingly simple model that reproduces the spiral shapes nearly perfectly. “They had the right spacing, the right curvature and the right relationship to one another,” he says. “These things have always been a puzzle,” says John Murray, a Mars geologist at the UK’s Open University. Previous theories involving wind and shifting ice caps “don’t really explain the spiral pattern”, he says, but explanation provided by Pelletier’s model “seems the most likely”.

Freeze and thaw

The average annual temperature at the martian poles is a frosty -40 degrees Celsius, but for a few days every summer, the temperature rises enough for ice to vaporise. Pelletier’s model ignores wind and shifting ice, focusing instead only on how sunlight heats and vaporises small cracks in the ice. Because Mars is tilted on its axis, the sunlight falls mostly on one side of the crack, vaporising the ice. Some of this water vapour then refreezes on the shaded side of the cracks. But the overall effect is the cracks widen and deepen over time and – crucially – migrate towards the pole, merging with one another as they go.

In his model, the cracks began as randomly distributed points that lengthened into individual spirals and a jumble of shapes. Over a simulated five million years – the same amount of time estimated for the real spirals to form on Mars – they merged into one giant spiral. The spiral arms appear to move about one kilometre per million years. “I wanted to show the model self-organises,” Pelletier told New Scientist. “I put in something completely random and got out a system similar to what we see today.”

Thin atmosphere

While the underlying physical reasons why the spirals form remain unclear, one factor that is likely to be important is the fact that temperatures decrease steadily to their lowest point at the poles, meaning less ice vaporises there. Another factor, says Pelletier, “is the cracks want to line up along the equator – they get the most solar radiation when facing that way”.

And no spirals might form at all, if it was not for Mars’s thin atmosphere. Very little heat gets transferred around the planet via air currents, meaning the localised melting on one side of each crack in the polar ice is the dominant mechanism. Pelletier got the idea for his model when he saw the spiral shape of a slime mould in a biology book.

Maggie McKee


Details of the computer simulations are in the April issue of the journal Geology.
The simulations do not include wind, which some previous studies had suggested might contribute to the spirals.

Visiting the author’s website at the University of Arizona Department of Geosciences we are told that ‘Landforms on Earth’s surface are sculpted by flowing water in the form of rivers and glaciers and by the wind and windborne particles’ and ‘the focus of the group is currently in computational modelling and analysis of digital topographic data’.’

In an electric universe these simplistic assumptions are hopelessly inadequate. So the computer modelling that is based upon them will be misleading or trivial. It is disturbing to see geologists adopting the physicists’ fad of computer modelling. Science is becoming a ‘virtual reality’ computer game.

Wal Thornhill

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