The worm, turned

Contributed by
Oct 9, 2007
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Sometimes, it's OK to say that some claims are just plain dumb.

Case in point: on Hoagland's website, it is claimed that there is a giant glass worm lying on the surface of Mars.

If you have not heard this claim before, I will let you take a moment to breathe in the ridiculosity of this. Yes, a worm. And not a regular sized worm, but a giant one. And not made of, say, protoplasm, but glass. Now, to be fair, they use the word "worm" as an analogy. Sometimes. Of course, with Hoagland, it's hard to tell if he's being serious or not, because everything on his site is so silly.

In the link above I pretty thoroughly debunk this silliness. But of course the Worm lives on in crank websites and in the hearts and minds of pareidolia-stricken conspiracy theorists everywhere. They still claim it's real, and it's a worm. Or, at least, it's a raised feature on Mars and not a gully.

The thing is, truth has a way of being persistent. When you get better data, the lies fall away and the truth remains.

Which brings us to the HiRISE images in a crater just south of Parana Basin on Mars. Take a look:

It's clear that this is the same kind of feature claimed on Hoagland's site to be a raised tunnel/worm. Problem is, it's a gully. From the technical info for the image, it can be determined that the sunlight is coming from just clockwise of the left hand side (the subsolar azimuth -- the point on the ground which is directly below the Sun -- is 212 degrees around clockwise from the line defined by the center of the image and the center of the right hand edge... in other words, the Sun is coming from just above the left hand side). Using this, we can see from the shadows that this is a gully for sure. It's not a raised feature, it's a depression carved into the surface.

Now, The Claimed Worm is ridged, and the ridges are supposed to be raised features, like ribs on a tent. In my debunking I said these were dunes, carved by wind entrained in the gully. This was poopooed on Hoagland's site, again as I outline in my debunking page. The original MGS images were fuzzy, but not so for HiRISE with its keen eye.

Let's zoom in on the upper right side of this gully:

Hmmm. Those are definitely long, thin, raised features, irregular, yet spaced at somewhat well-defined intervals. That sounds like dunes to me.


However, as Ron Nicks (a self-proclaimed geologist and author of that "analysis" on Hoagland's page) said:

Now do you understand why I never seriously considered "sand dunes" as any kind of scientific explanation for this remarkable tube-like feature - with its equally remarkable "supporting rings?"

Sure, I understand why-- he's not interested in accuracy. If he were, why would he be affiliated with Hoagland?

Duh again.

Sometimes I wonder if it's worth debunking some of this stuff. I mean sure, shooting fish in a barrel has its appeal, but after a while the limited thrills dull. And the thing is, I have a very, very large gun. It's called science. But it's also called truth, and reason, and reality.

But still, sometimes the best reply is simply, "duh".