2001: A Space Odyssey - Dave reaches for the Monolith


Sagan, Kubrick, Aldrin, Oh My! The only thing missing from this story now is Kevin Bacon!

What's all the Buzz about!?
The Mars and Phobos Monoliths may be old news to some, but for me it was something I hadn't looked into much until recently. But, after seeing a bizarre C-SPAN clip featuring Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin talking about a monolith on the moon of Mars, my interest was piqued again.


Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on C-SPAN July 19th, 2009 - [C-SPAN]

After listening to Buzz rave about the Mars moon monolith, I began reading various internet articles about the topic, but the lack of detail in everything I found was leaving me less than satisfied. There were multiple images being thrown around from various space missions and often no references or links to the source images were provided. No one article out there really brought it all together. So, after about two days of non-stop searching through various articles and cryptic government websites and struggling with raw image formats, I'm finally able to lay it all out.

First, let us travel back in time to 1966 and take a quick look at a book called "Intelligent Life in the Universe" written by astrophysicist I. S. Shklovskii and the famous Cornell University professor, Carl Sagan. This book was based largely in part on I. S. Shklovskii's early work from 1962 under the title "The Universe, Life and Mind".

  This 1962 work consisted of a general description of the Universe and it's parts, from the stars, galaxies, cosmology and cosmogony down to the planets of the solar system, followed up by a discussion of nature and origin of life, and concluded by a contemplation of the possibility of intelligent life on other worlds. The central problem in Shklovskii's book was the acceleration of the Martian satellite Phobos which the author thought to indicate possibly a hollow structure and artificial origin, a monument of a bygone Martian civilization.  - Irish Astronomical Journal, Vol. 8, p.94

So, as far back as 1962 to 1966, we have an astrophysicist and the late great Carl Sagan promoting the idea of Mar's moon Phobos being possibly artificial. If that's not mind blowing, then I don't know what is!

Next, let's jump ahead a few years and take a look at possibly the greatest science fiction film of all time and the genesis of the Moon monolith idea. That film is Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey". In this iconic film, monoliths are solid black artificial objects of extraterrestrial origin. The first monolith in the film is seen in prehistoric times and is shown to somehow influence the evolution of early man. As the film progresses, scientists discover a magnetic anomaly on the Moon, which turns out to be another mysterious black monolith buried below the lunar surface. Once uncovered, the monolith on the Moon transmits a signal to Jupiter which leads to a 3rd monolith in orbit around Jupiter. This 3rd monolith is some kind of portal or star gate to another world or dimension. In short, go and watch the movie if you haven't already. In an interview in 1969, Kubrick explains the idea of the black monolith.

"From the very outset of work on the film we all discussed means of photographically depicting an extraterrestrial creature in a manner that would be as mind-boggling as the being itself. And it soon became apparent that you cannot imagine the unimaginable. All you can do is try to represent it in an artistic manner that will convey something of its quality. That's why we settled on the black monolith -- which is, of course, in itself something of a Jungian archetype, and also a pretty fair example of "minimal art."   - An Interview with Stanley Kubrick (1969) by Joseph Gelmis

Now, let's go "Back to the Future" nearly 3 decades to September 11th, 1997 (I'm not making this date up, I swear). This is when the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) arrived at Mars.

Mars Global Surveyor was the first successful U.S. mission launched to Mars since the Viking mission in 1976. After a 20-year absence at the planet, Mars Global Surveyor ushered in a new era of Mars exploration with its five science investigations. Mars Global Surveyor arrived at Mars on September 11, 1997 (September 12, UTC), and has contributed a multitude of findings, including signs of past, persistent water such as an ancient delta and currently active water features in the gullies of canyon walls. After nearly a decade of discovery, MGS went silent in November, 2006.   - JPL

On September 12th 1998, almost exactly one year after its arrival, MGS snapped several high resolution images of the Martian moon Phobos. In one of those images, (MOC image 55103), you can see an object that appears to be a rectangular monolith sticking straight up out of the ground and casting a long shadow. I believe this to be the object that Buzz Aldrin was referring to on his C-Span interview on July 19th, 2009.


- Mars Global Surveyor MOC image 55103 (click for hi-res jpg)

The original image file "sp255103.img" and its details can be obtained from the following urls:
                   JPL - https://starbase.jpl.nasa.gov/
                   USGS - http://ida.wr.usgs.gov/


- MGS MOC image 55103 enhanced and enlarged

The above enhancement was created by first opening the original image file "sp255103.img" using a software application called NASAView Image Display Software.  Using NASAView allowed me to save the .img file as a high resolution .GIF image file. Then using Photoshop, I adjusted the brightness and contrast and enlarged the monolith to 200 percent.  The monolith in this image is a massive object. The resolution of this image is listed as 2.43m/pixel, and my educated guess is that the object is something near 48m across(~150ft) and maybe 300 ft. tall. The height of the object is more difficult to determine due to the nearly overhead view of the object.

Lunar Explorer Italia made some of its own enhancements of this monolith as well and posted the following image on April 18th, 2012.

- Lunar Explorer Italia MOC image 55103 enhancements

For those who have missed our previous publication (dated January, 23rd, 2012) about this alleged anomaly, we repeat what we have already said and written many times, such as that all we are looking at, here, is just a Rocky Outcrop or, if you prefer, a Columnar-shaped Erratic Boulder, whose outline can vaguely remind us of an Irregular Triangle. A "Triangle" that shows a Dark Diagonal Crack near its base and another Fracture at about half of its height, better visible on the left side of the Feature. The upper portion of the Boulder, then, shows clear irregularities (one or more sort of "bumps" can easily be seen on its upper left corner), while other minor (but still perfectly visible) irregularities can be identified all over it. - Lunar Explorer Italia

Now we are starting to see just what the "Buzz" is all about! A monolith as big as a skyscraper on the Martian moon Phobos, it doesn't get any cooler than that! Or, Does it?

Let's skip ahead a bit to 2009, where on August 6th, the Daily Mail published an article titled "Buzz Aldrin stokes the mystery of the monolith on Mars".  The article mainly pushes the "unremarkable boulder" theory with some scientific techno-babble.

'Layering from rock deposition combined with tectonic fractures creates right-angle planes of weakness such that rectangular blocks tend to weather out and separate from the bedrock.' - dailymail.co.uk

The article then goes on to state that the Canadian Space Agency wants to land a mission next to the monolith! What!? I thought it was just a boulder!?

"In 2007 the Canadian Space Agency funded a study for an unmanned mission to Phobos known as PRIME (Phobos Reconnaissance and International Mars Exploration). The building-sized monolith is the main proposed landing site but not because scientists suspect UFO activity. They believe the object is a boulder exposed relatively recently in an otherwise featureless area of the asteroid-like moon. PRIME investigator Dr Alan Hildebrand said it could answer questions about the moon's composition and history. 'If we can get to that object, we likely don’t need to go anywhere else,' he told his science team. The fact it seems to resemble a rectangular monument could be due to simulacra. This is where humans see familiar images in random surroundings such as the famous 'Face of Mars', which is actually just a hilly and cratered area.  - dailymail.co.uk

So, to summarize in layman's terms, the monolith is an "unremarkable boulder" but, the Canadian Space Agency wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to look at it up close because it's also the lynch pin of how Phobos was formed (or built) and people who think it's a rectangular object are delusional.


Anyway, moving on (or back) to 2008 brings us to the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRise).

High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is a camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The 65 kg (143 lb.), $40 million USD instrument was built under the direction of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. It consists of a 0.5 m (19.7 in) aperture reflecting telescope, the largest so far of any deep space mission, which allows it to take pictures of Mars with resolutions of 0.3 m/pixel (about 1 foot), resolving objects below a meter across. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HiRISE

On March 23rd 2008, HiRise acquired two high resolution images of the Martian moon Phobos (PSP_007769_9010 and PSP_007769_9015).  In both images, a strange monolithic anomaly, similar to that of the MGS Phobos monolith, can be seen poking up from the surface and casting a long shadow.  It's difficult to tell if the object is rectangular due to its low resolution, but it's quite interesting none the less.  Also the precise size of the object is difficult to pinpoint but the resolution of the image is listed as 6.8 m/pixel. Whether this refers to the .tiff files or the .jpg files is unclear.  But assuming the 6.8 m/pixel refers to the .tiff file, then the object would be about 30 meters (~100ft) across.  See the below enhancement created from a high resolution tiff (PSP_007769_9010_IRBv2.tif) from the University of Arizona

                                     - HiRise image PSP_007769_9010_IRBv2.tif enlargement - click for full size image

I had to find this high resolution tiff on my own by digging around on the HiRise website as the tiffs were not linked to in their PR webpage: http://www.uahirise.org/phobos.php

I also contacted the HiRise team and asked if even higher resolution .JP2 files were available for these 2 Phobos images. To my surprise, I received an almost immediate response:
        From: HiRISE Contact [mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]
        Sent: Sunday, November 30, 2014 2:01 PM
        Subject: Re: A Comment about the HiRISE Web site


Those data are not missing; they do not exist for those particular images because they are not true Mars observations. These observations are of Phobos, which means we could not generate the same type of image files we do as when we are imaging the planet itself.

What files we do have are only here:

Are you still with me? Let's jump ahead again but only a few months this time to July 24th, 2008.  This is when HiRise takes an amazing super high resolution image of the Martian surface titled "Boulders and Layers in Canyon" (PSP_009342_1725).  The beautifully detailed landscape in this mega image is awesome enough, but it gets better. Zoom into one little tiny area and there it is, the Mars Monolith, not to be confused with the Phobos monolith(s)!  See our enhancements of the monolith below.

- HiRise image PSP_009342_1725 - location of Mars monolith   - North is to the right  (click to enlarge)



- HiRise image PSP_009342_1725 - Mars Trinity -100% zoom- 3 unremarkable boulders - North is up


- HiRise image PSP_009342_1725 - Mars monolith - 400 percent zoom

We used Photoshop CS6 with the j2k plugin in order to view the original .JP2 image file (PSP_009342_1725_RED.JP2 - 674.8MB).  The resolution of the image is listed as 25 cm/pixel which would make the monolith about 8 ft. across and maybe 16 feet tall (Not too far off from the size of the black monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey).  Interestingly enough there are actually 3 possibly rectangular objects in close proximity to each other, which consequently happens to form a triangle that points North. Probably just "unremarkable boulders" though! Maybe the CSA will want to land next to these rocks one day as well?


                            - HiRise image PSP_009342_1725 - two other objects - 400 percent zoom


Last but not least, Lunar Explorer Italia found a Mars monolith of its own and made its own enhancements seen below. This monolith seen below is not the same monolith from HiRise image PSP_009342_1725. Every article out there on the web keeps getting the origin of this image below completely wrong or confused.  I took the time to actually contact Lunar Explorer Italia and find out where this image came from. The monolith below posted by Lunar Explorer Italia is from MRO HiRise image PSP_006737_1265 titled "Monitoring Short Temporal Change in Dust Devil Tracks"

- Lunar Explorer Italia - Mars monolith enhancement/enlargement

The HiRise .jp2 file for image PSP_006737_1265 can be downloaded here (very large file 1GB).  The location of the monolith has been circled in the image below for those of you who want to take a look for yourself.   

 monolith location in HiRise image PSP_006737_1265

Well, there you have it. Everything you wanted to know about the Mars monoliths. I know it was a lot to digest but I hope it was worth it. If you can read this sentence, you are a trooper for sure!


I have to get it
Get it right
What I need
It's what I need 

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