(I originally posted this on another blog on Wednesday, April 11. It is also appropriate here.)
Once upon a time Richard Hoagland was my role model and Carl Sagan was not. While Sagan was a media hog, Hoagland fought the good fight against the government conspiracy that hid evidence of alien intelligences and the artifacts left throughout the solar system by an ancient alien civilization.
There was, after all, the “Face”.
During college, I overdosed on Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell. I left pseudoscience behind. I saw Hoagland for the charlatan he really was (and is), and I came to appreciate Sagan for his reason, his passion, and his inspiring desire to educate.
Now, years later I work for HiRISE, participating in an experiment to photograph the surface of Mars using a high resolution camera. We had to take yet another image of the Cydonia region on Mars, because of the history, because of the public interest, because of the desire to leave silliness behind and instead embrace the wonder of reality.
Today the image was released (see the various image options, including the highest resolution JPEG2000 version), along with other gorgeous views of the Martian surface.
This then is the real face of Mars, a boulder-strewn mesa carved not by imaginary entities but by the slow yet steady erosion caused by winds, impacts, physical failure of rocks, and perhaps temperature variations.
I think that while I believed in the “Face” I could not have had the dream job I do today. I would not know the joy I know today, the joy that comes from seeing Mars not as I use to want it to be, but Mars as it really is. This is the real Mars, far more exciting and full of wonder and mystery than Hoagland’s fantasy version.
If a dedication means anything at all, then I dedicate this post to Carl Sagan, a person I did not appreciate while he was alive, but who has taught me so much through the legacy of his words. I now look at Mars with “skeptical thinking and an aptitude for wonder,” the two skills he highlighted in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.