Why Is the Martian Sky Blue?

And other Unanswered Questions about Life on the Red Planet

In a sense, there are really three planets we call Mars. There is the Mars of fiction, of dreams, of imagining. There is Mars as depicted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) based on their own interpretation of the data from their various orbiters and landers. Then there is the ‘real’ Mars—now only dimly perceptible—which appears to lie somewhere between the Mars of fiction and the official version offered by NASA and its allies.

Writers of fiction have had a field day with the red planet. Edgar Rice Burroughs (the creator of Tarzan) wrote of “Barsoom” and envisioned a Mars with breathable air and numerous exotic life forms. Ray Bradbury, in Martian Chronicles, depicted a world inhabited by intelligent humanoids. In Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, human colonists shared the planet with intelligent natives. In 1906, amateur astronomer Percival Lowell wrote Mars and Its Canals, speculating over what he thought were artificial channels, and theorized that they were built by an intelligent race to stave off the end of a dying world that had once been warmer and wetter. It now appears that there are no canals but, still, certain surface features, like the shadows of the Tharsis bulge volcanoes, the Valles Marineris canyon, and the rims of the larger impact craters, seen dimly and occasionally when viewing conditions are optimum, could certainly be taken for a canal system.

The official NASA/JPL version of Mars, though, is something else. After the first orbiter, Mariner 4 in 1964, NASA concluded that the Martian atmosphere at the mean surface level (MSL) was less than one percent as dense as Earth’s at sea level—equivalent to ours twenty miles up. In 1975, the first Viking Lander did experiments to search for life; but the results were ambiguous and contradictory, so NASA concluded that there was no life on Mars, at least not on the surface, although bacteria might survive underground. NASA researchers did find immense volcanoes; vast canyons deeper than any on Earth’s land; planet-wide dust storms; clouds; frost; but, they assured us, there was no sign of any civilization, past or present. In the view of some alternative researchers those conclusions are premature, to say the least, and not based on actual evidence.

Let’s consider NASA’s assertion that the Martian atmosphere is almost a vacuum. Astronomers had for many years imagined that the Martian sky, seen from the surface, would be a dark blue near the horizon and black, or nearly so, at the zenith, just as Earth’s sky appears from a plane flying at high altitude. Surprisingly, though, the landers have shown us a pink sky—and a rather light pink, at that. If the air is as thin as the ‘experts’ say, shouldn’t the entire sky be black, as our own sky appears from a balloon twenty miles up? NASA argues that the pink color is due to suspended dust, but, even given the lower Martian gravity (.37 of Earth’s), how could an atmosphere of little more than a vacuum support so much dust, even when the air is still? Moreover, in some lander pictures, including some from the current ‘Curiosity’ mission, the Martian sky is pale blue, very much like ours near sea level. In one image from Viking 2 (also 1975), the sky is a virtual blue, and the American flag decal on the lander is red, white, and blue, but on another the sky is pink and the flag’s colors are off. Some authorities believe this is a very strong indication that the real daytime color is blue (except during sunrise or sunset or during a dust storm). Anyone who has done much flying or mountain climbing can look at the sky and very roughly estimate his altitude—and on Earth, light blue indicates a very low altitude where the air is fairly dense. Several later Mars lander pictures also display a light blue sky, while pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope in 1997 show a blue margin around the body of the planet.

The supposed near-vacuum atmosphere of Mars still, somehow, manages to deposit a visible layer of frost overnight. On Earth, twenty miles above the surface, there are, rarely, some wispy, almost invisible clouds, but on Mars, clouds resembling our familiar cirrus clouds are not uncommon and, indeed, some orbiter and lander pictures show dense clouds, even a mostly overcast sky. This simply would not be possible on a cold, dry world with an atmosphere less than one percent of Earth’s. In fact, NASA has admitted that some ice crystal clouds are about 15 miles above the Martian surface, where the air is supposedly only one thousandth as dense as our atmosphere at sea level.

Liquid fresh water, moreover, could not exist in any quantity on the Martian surface, for even just above the freezing point, it would boil in the thin air. Yet orbiter photos show what appear to be substantial meltwater ponds, with the bottom visible in the shallow water near shore but not in the deeper water, and with seeming ice floes on the surface. NASA has never denied any of these pictures, nor commented on them, but they have admitted that streaks on hillsides are signs of seasonal water flows. To explain the liquidity of Martian water, NASA has postulated that the flows must consist of brine, which has a lower freezing point—there is, however, no real evidence of this. Furthermore, how does this strange water get back up the hill to flow again next season, unless there is substantial condensation (or even precipitation), implying a denser atmosphere?

The various NASA landers have used parachutes to slow their landing speed to a safe level. Yet here on Earth in October 2012, Felix Baumgartner parachuted from 128,000 feet up (about 24 miles), and had to fall for several miles and attain an incredible supersonic speed of 833 miles per hour before his chute would open, by which time he was well below 20 miles up, and, even then, the air was thin enough that he and his chute could survive the opening. Yet, Mars lander chutes magically deploy four miles above the Martian surface. A parachute’s ability to slow a payload depends on its surface area and the atmospheric density, because the formula for momentum is mass times velocity, and a wider chute traps a greater mass of air. Using simple arithmetic and high school physics, it can be shown that the chutes used on Mars would not work as advertised if the air was as thin as NASA claims. The implication is that the Martian atmosphere may be even dense enough that human visitors to Mars—while, doubtless, needing oxygen masks and clothing to protect from ultraviolet sunlight—would not need heavy, cumbersome pressure suits. On Earth, pilots do not need full pressure suits until they are more than 50,000 feet above sea level, where the air is only one seventh as dense as at sea level. In warmer areas at midday or in the afternoon, humans would not even need heavy clothing. It also means that hardy terrestrial life forms, such as certain lichens, might survive on Mars, so certainly any life forms native to the planet could survive on the surface. But is there life on Mars?

Even NASA and JPL have stated that river channels and ancient seabeds indicate that in the remote past Mars was warmer and wetter (just as Percival Lowell suspected), and life might have thrived there. But did it? And does life still exist on the surface of Mars? One clue to the past is the very color of the Red Planet. There is much iron oxide in the soil, and for iron to oxidize, free oxygen must once have been present in large amounts—and the only known way for really large amounts of oxygen to be freed is through photosynthesis by plants. The famous meteor from Mars found in Antarctica contained what looked like fossilized nanobacteria, but this is still disputed. But, then, there are the seasonal color changes noted by Percival Lowell and other astronomers—large areas of Mars become darker in color in spring and summer, as if vegetation, dormant in winter, was springing to life. Hubble telescope images seem to show a slight greenish tint to these areas. NASA, however, has claimed the color changes are caused by seasonal dust storms. In other words, dark colored dust blows in from somewhere in spring and blows away (where?) every fall. Perhaps realizing the absurdity of this “explanation,” NASA later suggested that frost deposited in winter makes the areas lighter, and then, melts off in summer. But why do only certain areas change color? Why not an entire hemisphere at a time? And why doesn’t the entire surface—seen from Earth or from an orbiter—not look lighter in the early morning (our landers have shown the frost) and darker in the afternoon when (as confirmed by our landers) the frost melts or sublimes?

There is even more possible evidence of past life. Landers have photographed rocks that look exactly like fossil crinoids on Earth—are they some kind of bizarre mineral deposit or an example of parallel evolution? Other rocks look like rotini, and some Opportunity Rover pictures show what look like microbial slime mats, coral, and, in Eagle Crater, algae-like filaments and spherules with stems. Any of these may just be inorganic mineral formations, but all of them? Are we seeing a pattern here?

Maybe there was life on Mars in the past, but, aside from the seasonal color changes, is there evidence for life on Mars today? A number of researchers, including J.P. Skipper on his marsanomalyresearch.com web site, have collected pictures revealing many suspicious anomalies. Skipper is also author of the book The Hidden Truth: Water and Life on Mars. For anyone wishing to access the official NASA photos and to evaluate the evidence for themselves, Skipper has provided all the links. There are several photos of entire “forests” of “trees” ranging in size from a few hundred yards across to over half a mile. NASA says these are just star dunes, but pictures of terrestrial star dunes can easily be found on the Internet, and they are fairly close but still very different. Keep in mind that the mountains, deserts, and dunes on Mars look exactly like their terrestrial counterparts—the same laws of physics apply. The “trees” could very well be immense plants with their branches lying on the ground and radiating out from a central trunk, presumably with very deep roots.

The possibility of any kind of life on Mars is pretty exciting, but there is also evidence that, in the past, there may have been intelligent life and some sort of civilization. The intelligent beings, if they existed, may, some believe, have been indigenous to Mars, or they may even have been colonists from Earth who reached Mars in the remote past. Of course, we must not forget the “face” in the Cydonia region. Authors Richard Hoagland and Michael Bara still insist that it is artificial—a huge building shaped like a human face—and have even displayed a picture on their enterprisemission.com site showing infrared images of Cydonia with an extensive network of rectilinear structures (presumably just under the surface, since they cannot be seen in visible light). These are clearly not due to pixilation—the conventional explanation. In addition, near the face are several oddly shaped mountains that resemble eroded, multi-sided pyramids and what appears to be a huge, roofless, triangular enclosure. Why would such a variety of structures that, at the very least, look artificial, be clustered in one area? Later, closer pictures from NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) orbiters showed the “face” to be just an eroded mesa—yet it still has parallel straight lines and right angles, both very rare in nature.

The “face” is far from the best evidence for a Martian civilization. There are several orbiter photos showing huge translucent-looking tubes, over a hundred yards in diameter, partly underground and partly exposed in what appear to be large trenches. NASA insists that we are not seeing what we are seeing—that the tubes are not tubes at all, but just oddly eroded gullies, or maybe sand dunes. But we see what we see—they are tubes, whether some immense life form or remnants of a civilization and a technology very different from our own. They may be habitats, or, who knows, maybe the real Martian ‘canals,’ built to carry water where it is needed.

As stated earlier, straight lines and right angles are rare in nature. On Earth, rock layers laid down horizontally and tilted vertically by slow tectonic movement can produce patterns of long, straight lines. But stranger and more intricate patterns appear in many places on Mars. There are numerous “ruins,” with complex, rectangular structures, triangles, vertical walls, circular openings, etc., looking like the ruins of ancient stone or mud-brick buildings on Earth where roofs of wood and thatch have long since collapsed.

If there once was an intelligent race on Mars, could they still be there? The Soviet Phobos Two craft photographed a long, thin object in space near the Martian moon, Phobos, and a miles-long, thin shadow (presumably the shadow of the anomalous object) on the Martian surface—just before all contact was lost. There is a Curiosity picture of a bright light on a ridgeline, and in the very next picture, it is gone. One orbiter picture shows what looks like an artificially lighted dome in Kaiser Crater. Curiosity Rover photographed a long bright object in the sky that is definitely not a cloud or one of the two Martian moons—is it a UFO?

Looking at the overall pattern, we may safely conclude that the Martian atmosphere is almost certainly much denser than NASA says it is. It also seems quite reasonable to believe that, in the past, there was life on Mars and maybe there still is. Indeed, could there have been a civilization there, and may it still exist? Could Mars, all along, have been the place from where at least some of the UFOs seen on Earth originated? There are certainly plenty of verifiable facts that suggest as much. Personally, intuition—or perhaps some sort of racial memory—leads me to believe that in the remote past, great civilizations existed here on Earth and that our ancestors were in close contact with a civilization on Mars, whether created by natives or by human colonists. I suspect that some very powerful individuals may have been aware of this all along, and we can only hope that eventually, somehow, we will learn the truth about Mars—and about our own distant past, before it is too late.


William B. Stoecker is a retired U. S. Air Force intelligence officer and author of the 2006 book The Atlantis Conspiracy. His reports on science and the paranormal are widely followed on the Internet, and he has been a regular correspondent for Atlantis Rising since 2006.

By William B. Stoecker