Life on Mars, or not?

I’ve been watching the television news and have seen that our networks have picked up on a photo taken by the Nasa spacecraft Spirit in Jan. 2004, of a shape that looks like a human, or ‘bigfoot’, figure.

I love a good ‘Life on Mars’ story, but thought I should check out a favourite site of mine and see what badastronomy.com had to say about this. I discovered this site last year while helping a student who was doing an inquiry based project for a Science class.  Phil Plait runs the site and this is what he has to say on his main page;

I am an astronomer, writer, and skeptic. I likes reality the way it is, and I aims to keep it that way. My real name is Phil Plait, and I run the Bad Astronomy website

It’s a great site and one to remember so that you can inform your students and staff about it. He has over 11,000 readers so I’m sure plenty of people out there are aware already. Phil had a comment on his blog about the photo, but the link he provided to Emily Lakdawalla’s site The Planetary Society Weblog was the real find. Emily’s post, entitled Teeny little Bigfoot on Mars, was a thorough discussion of the image and what it might be. I love this paragraph which talks about the actual size of the said ‘person’ or ‘bigfoot’;

The zoomed-in view of the image on the Internet also makes it very difficult to see that Bigfoot is really not very big. There’s a neat tool that another rover fan, “Algorimancer,” has written that allows you to use the rovers’ binocular vision to estimate the distance to and size of objects visible in their images. Using AlgorimancerPG, you can determine that our little “Bigfoot” is actually less than five meters from the rover, so can be no more than about 6 centimeters tall.  

These are the types of things I enjoy about the immediacy of the Web. The ability to search for the guts of a story that our media has picked up. These are the type of skills we need to be teaching our students today. 

Another good thing my search turned up was that the BBC article about this topic included this quote from badastronomy.com;

Badastronomy.com tried to apply some perspective: “A man? It’s a tiny rock only a few inches high. It’s only a few feet from the rover!”

  Well done BBC!

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