What happens when something observed at great distance defies all current expectations and explanations? What happens is an array of strong reactions, including this one from Planetary scientist Todd Clancy of the Space Science Institute – "I don’t think it’s real. … Basic physics says this can’t occur."
And yet, it appears that it has occurred – more than once. It’s just that it wasn’t previously noticed until one day in 2012, when amateur astronomer Wayne Jaeschke of West Chester, Pennsylvania was reviewing footage of Mars that he’d captured in his private observatory.
What Jaeschke saw was a huge billowing plume towering over the planet’s rounded edge. The plume was there for 11 days in March and appeared again in April of 2012.
Jaeschke shared the totally anomalous images first with friends and then with a wider circle that included professional astronomers. Now scientists around the world are endeavoring to understand the nature of the mysterious Mars plume, which reached 150 miles in altitude (twice as high as all previously observed Martian clouds) and stretched 300-600 miles across the planet. Looking back through pictures of Mars captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, the scientists found that images of the plume were present in 1997.
Reporting in this week’s issue of the science journal Nature, one of the co-authors of a study on the subject, Antonio García Muñoz, a planetary scientist at the European Space Agency, said that they initially did not believe the images were real. “It’s difficult to come to terms with this,” he noted.
Given that the images defy everything that we know thus far about physics and Mars, scientists are reluctant to embrace them as anything more than some kind of mistake – despite the added credibility of the Hubble images. "It’s a pretty good argument,” notes Nicolas Heavens, a planetary scientist at Hampton University in Virginia who was clearly born for his Calling. “But there’s a hole or two in it.”
There were 19 other independent observers who also captured images of the plume. Thus, the study co-author, Agustin Sánchez-Lavega, a planetary scientist and physics professor at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, considers the source of the formations "open to discussion.”
The pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides – who is considered to be the first philosopher to construct a logically self-consistent argument – compelled other Greek thinkers to forego the testimony of their senses in favor of the rationality of logic. This led Anaxagoras – considered to be the first to bring philosophy to Athens – to reflect that, “Because of the weakness of our senses we are not able to judge the truth.”
It was also the elevation of logic over observation that put a crimp in the full flowering of Greek science until the European Renaissance, according to Robert K. Logan, Ph.D., author of The Alphabet (Wm. Morrow & Co. NY, 1986). He concludes a sub-section of the book, titled, “How Logical Double-talk Dampened the Empirical Spirit of Greek Physics,” by noting, “Logic and rationality later proved to be critical ingredients in the development of modern science – but only when integrated with empiricism and experimentation.”
It’s always interesting when someone on the fringe of an academic field succeeds in introducing observations outside the accepted purview, which then ultimately expand it. We don’t know if that will be the case on this occasion – but it’s definitely something we’ll want to keep following.