"Bio Station Alpha" Exposed
June 13, 2011
the recent video on YouTube, so popular that it went viral, made by a guy who saw something weird using the Google Mars app. It looked a lot like some kind of habitation unit, and he named it Bio Station Alpha. It seemed to have a definite complex shape, had 3D shadowing, and even some painted color stripes. When I saw it, I was intrigued, because it didn't look like a data error to me, which left me at a loss.You have my pity if you're among those who saw
But as you've probably heard by now, it was, in fact, a data error, combined with image compression artifacting that produced the apparently "complex" shape.
So here's what happened. The Mars Express satellite was doing its job, orbiting Mars and snapping photographs. A cosmic ray struck the craft, which is quite common, and of little interest to astronomers. The craft are hardened against such strikes, however they do still produce errors in the data. It's hard to say exactly what component was struck, but it was just a quick glitch.
Data from Mars Express is used by many customers for various purposes, including Google to populate their Mars version of the Google Earth software. (Some people don't know that they already own this. Launch the free Google Earth software, then go up to the little planet icon and select from Earth, Sky, Mars, or Moon.)
For example, here is another company's view of the same data. This is from HRSCview in Berlin. You can see that this image shows the same error, but has had some image processing applied to it, as part of the scaling and compression that they need to do to blend it into their whole-surface-of-Mars image set.
And just to allay any lingering fears that this is not a conspiracy to cover up NASA's secret evil space station on Mars, there are plenty of pictures available of the same spot that were taken at other times. Nancy Atkinson posted a nice better-quality shot of the same place on Mars taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2010 over at Universe Today. There is a startling lack of Bio Station Alpha. Naturally some of the conspiracy theorists will be unmoved by this, since "the space station could have easily been built since the 2010 photo".
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