Navigation:  Newsletter Archive > 2004 >

The Phobos Incident

Previous pageReturn to chapter overviewNext page

The Phobos Incident




Phobos, one of the two moons of Mars, has itself always been considered a rather mysterious object, as has its smaller twin, Deimos. Joseph Shklovskii noted member of the Soviet Academy of science and co-writer with Dr Carl Sagan of 'Intelligent life in the universe, once calculated from the estimated density of the Martian atmosphere and the peculiar "acceleration" of Phobos, that the satellite must be hollow. Could Phobos be a hollowed-out space station of huge proportions?


In July 1988, the Russians launched two unmanned satellite probes - Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 - in the direction of Mars, and with the primary intention of investigating the planet's mysterious moon, Phobos. Phobos 1 was unfortunately lost en route two months later, reportedly because of a radio command error. Phobos 2 was also ultimately lost in the most intriguing circumstances, but not before it had beamed back certain images and information from the planet Mars itself.


Phobos 2 arrived safely at Mars in January 1989 and entered into an orbit around Mars as the first step at its destination towards its ultimate goal: to transfer to an orbit that the would make it fly almost in tandem with the Martian moonlet called Phobos (hence the spacecrafts name) and explore the moonlet with highly sophisticated equipment that included two packages of instruments to be placed on the moonlet's surface.


All went well until Phobos 2 aligned itself with Phobos, the Martian moonlet. Then, on 28th March, the Soviet mission control centre acknowledged sudden communication "problems" with the spacecraft; and Tass, the official Soviet news agency, reported that "Phobos 2 had failed to communicate with Earth as scheduled after completing an operation yesterday around the Martian moon Phobos. Scientists at mission control have been unable to establish stable radio contact."


What had caused the Phobos 2 spacecraft to be lost? The answer came about three months later. Pressed by the international participants in the Phobos mission to provide definitive data, the Soviet authorities released a taped television transmission Phobos 2 sent in its last moments except for the last frames, taken just seconds before the spacecraft fell silent. The television clip was shown by some TV stations in Europe and Canada as part of weekly 'diary' programs, as a curiosity and not as a hot news item.


The television sequence thus released focused on two anomalies. The first was a network of straight lines in the area of the Martian equator; some of the lines were short, some were longer, some were thin, some were wide enough to look like rectangular shapes 'embossed' in the Martian surface. Arranged in rows parallel to each other, the pattern covered an area of some six hundred square kilometers (more than two hundred and thirty square miles). The anomaly appeared to be far from a natural phenomenon.


The television clip was accompanied by a live comment by Dr. John Becklake of the London Science Museum. He described the phenomenon as very puzzling, because the pattern seen on the surface of Mars was photographed not with the spacecraft's optical camera but with its infrared camera - a camera that takes pictures of objects using the heat that they radiate, and not by the play of light and shadow on them. In other words, the pattern of parallel lines and rectangles covering an area of almost two hundred and fifty square miles was a source of heat radiation. It is so highly unlikely that a natural source of heat radiation (a geyser or a concentration of radioactive minerals under the surface, for example) would create such a perfect geometric pattern. When viewed over and over again, the pattern definitely looks artificial; but as for what it was, the scientist said "I certainly don't know."


According to Boris Bolitsky, science correspondent for Radio Moscow, just before radio contact was lost with Phobos 2, several unusual images were radioed back to Earth, described by the Russian as "Quite remarkable features". A report taken from New Scientist of 8 April 1989, described the following: "The features are either on the Martian surface or in the lower atmosphere. The features are between 20 and 25 kilometers wide and do not resemble any known geological formation. They are spindle - shaped and proving to be intriguing and puzzling."


Since no coordinates for the precise location of this "anomalous feature" have been released publicly, it is impossible to judge its relationship to another puzzling feature on the surface of Mars that can be seen in Mariner 9 frame 4209-75. It is also located in the equatorial area (at longitude 186.4) and has been described as "unusual indentations with radial arms protruding from a central hub", caused (according to NASA scientists) by the melting and collapse of permafrost layers. The design of the features, bringing to mind the structure of a modern airport with a circular hub from which long structures housing the airplane gates radiate, can be better visualized when the photograph is reversed (showing depressions and protrusions).





An unusual photo of a thin shadow across Mars was shown on the Russian television segment. Seen on the surface of Mars was a clearly defined dark shape that could indeed be described, as it was in the initial dispatch from Moscow, as a "thin ellipse" (this photo is a still from the Soviet television clip). It was certainly different from the shadow of Phobos recorded eighteen years earlier by Mariner 9. The latter cast a shadow that was a rounded ellipse and fuzzy at the edges, as would be cast by the uneven surface of the moonlet. The 'anomaly' seen in the Phobos 2 transmission was a thin ellipse with very sharp rather than rounded points (the shape is known in the diamond trade as a "marquise") and the edges, rather than being fuzzy, stood out sharply against a kind of halo on the Martian surface. Dr. Becklake described it as "something that is between the spacecraft and Mars, because we can see the Martian surface below it," and stressed that the object was seen by both the optical and the infrared (heat seeking) camera.


All these reasons explain why the Soviets have not suggested that the dark, "thin ellipse" might have been a shadow of the moonlet. It was taken as the spacecraft was aligning itself with Phobos (the moonlet). "As the last picture was halfway through," he said, "they [Soviets] saw something that should not be there." The Soviets, he went on to state, have not yet released this last picture, and we won’t speculate on what it shows.


So what was it that collided or crashed into Phobos 2? Was the space probe shot out of space for "seeing too much"? What does the last secret frame show? In his careful words to 'Aviation Week and Space Technology', the chairman of the Soviet equivalent of NASA, referred to the last frame, saying, "One image appears to include an odd-shaped object between the spacecraft and Mars."


This "highly secret" photo was later given to the Western press by Colonel Dr. Marina Popovich, a Russian astronaut and pilot who has long been interested in UFO's. At a UFO conference in 1991, Popovich gave to certain investigators some interesting information that she "smuggled" out of the now ex-Soviet Union. Part of the information was what has been called "the first ever leaked accounts of an alien mothership in the solar system".


The last transmission from Phobos 2 was a photograph of a gigantic cylindrical spaceship - a huge, apporx, 20km long, 1.5km diameter cigar-shaped 'mothership', that was photographed on 25 March 1989 hanging or parked next to the Martian moon Phobos by the Soviet unmanned sonde Phobos 2. After that last frame was radio-transmitted back to Earth, the probe mysteriously disappeared; according to the Russians it was destroyed - possibly knocked out with an energy pulse beam.


The cigar shaped craft in the penultimate frame taken by Phobos 2 is apparently the object casting the oblong shadow on the surface of Mars in the earlier photo.


Australian science writer Brian Crowley says that because of the convex catseye shadow - which, because the overhead solar inclination prevented shadow- casting by Martian surface features, implies a shadow thrown on the surface from something in orbit - beyond the orbit of Phobos 2 itself. The shadow - spindle- or cigar shaped - is inconsistent with any possible shadow cast by the moon Phobos, which is an irregular potato shape. One needs little imagination to postulate a giant, hovering cigar- shaped mother craft similar to those documented down the years by UFO investigators.





Another Phobos picture, released on Canadian TV, presents an infrared scan radiometer image of the Martian surface that showed clearly defined rectangular areas. These are interconnected with a latticework of perfectly straight channels, much resembling a city block. There were no corresponding surface features taken by regular cameras. This suggests the heat signature of what may be a set of underground cavern or channels that are just too geometrically regular to be formed naturally. According to Dr. John Becklake of the London Science Museum, "The city-like pattern is 60 kilometers wide and could be easily be mistaken for an aerial view of Los Angeles."


The final picture taken by Phobos 2 before it was "shot out of orbit" has never been publicly released. One report indicated that it was presented at a closed meeting with US and British officials.


In the 19 October 1989 issue of "Nature', Soviet scientists published a series of technical reports on the experiments Phobos 2 did manage to conduct: of the thirty seven pages, a mere paragraph deal with the spacecrafts loss. The report confirms that the spacecraft was spinning, either because of a computer malfunction or because Phobos 2 was "impacted" by an unknown object.


And so we see that it is not only NASA that is apparently involved in suppressing photographs and knowledge of other planets, but the Russian space program as well.





In an interesting article in the January 1977 issue of 'Astronomy', entitled "Chain Craters of Phobos", the anonymous author discusses the strange grooves and craters of Phobos:


"Viking has discovered another mystery in the most unexpected place - one of the two small Martian moons. Mariner 9's mapping of Phobos (12x14x17 miles or 20x23x28 kilometers) and Deimos (6x7x10 miles, or 10x12x16 kilometers) showed many craters, and left most investigators that they were merely rocky chunks that bore the scars of meteorite impacts. There was a puzzling feature on Phobos that a few analysts noticed but, without better data, could say little about.


"A the limit of resolution were a few small crater pits that seemed to align in one or two chains. This was unusual, because crater chains on the moon were traditionally explained as volcanic pits - small eruption sites string along fracture lines. Yet Phobos apparently is too small to generate heat and conventional volcanic activity.


"Vikings high resolution photos have revealed that the crater chains are real and part of an extensive system of parallel grooves, a few hundred yards wide (shown in Viking orbiter photo number 39B84). There may be a tendency for the grooves to lie parallel to the direction of the satellites orbital motion, although there appears to be several swarms with somewhat different orientations. Scientists are at a loss to explain them. Theories being discussed include: grooves left by much smaller satellite debris also orbiting Mars (though the grooves seem to follow contours of Phobos' surface to closely for this to be tenable); fractures radiating from an impact crater not yet recognised (perhaps on the side of Phobos still poorly photographed); or fractures created in the body of the Martian satellite when it was part of a hypothetical larger body and that it spawned both Martian moons, perhaps during a catastrophic impact."


In the latest effort to photograph Mars and its moons, the NASA 'Mars Observer' was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida in late 1992, on a 337 day voyage to Mars. The Mars Observer initially was expected to arrive at Mars by 19 August 1993, and enter a long, elliptical orbit over the poles. In mid November 1993 it was to begin its two year mapping of the surface of Mars. Then suddenly, on 22nd August 1993, it was announced that NASA had lost contact with the spacecraft.


Americans and the world mourned the loss of a valuable scientific tool for understanding Mars. Taxpayers wondered if there was a better way to spend their money than on expensive space probes that didn't work. A dark shield was going up on new information about Mars to the public at large...



Page url:
This page was last updated on: 1/21/2011

Website designed and created by TJ Elias - Houston, Texas
Copyright© 1996-2011 - TJ Elias
Contact Us