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I am now running my annual July fund-raising campaign to celebrate the twelfth anniversary of the establishment of Behind the Black. For many reasons, mostly political but partly ethical, I do not use Google, Facebook, Twitter. These companies practice corrupt business policies, while targeting conservative websites for censoring, facts repeatedly confirmed by news stories and by my sense that Facebook has taken action to prevent my readers from recommending Behind the Black to their friends.


Thus, I must have your direct support to keep this webpage alive. Not only does the money pay the bills, it gives me the freedom to speak honestly about science and culture, instead of being forced to write it as others demand.


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Dry barren ground in Martian northern lowlands?

Dry barren ground in the Martian northern lowlands?
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image is intriguing because of what appears to not be there, rather than what is there. The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on November 3, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

At first glance it appears to show a very dry, barren surface. At its base are many parallel grooves running from the southwest to the northeast. On top of these grooves are several more recent crater impacts, as well as several patches of higher bedrock that appears to have been hard enough to resist whatever erosion process caused the groves.

Yet, based on the overview map below, the location of this photo should not be dry and barren, but instead home to a near-surface ice sheet covering everything.

Overview map

The red cross marks the location of today’s picture, practically in the center of Utopia Basin, Mars’ largest deep impact basin. The location is also at 37 degrees north latitude, in the mid-latitudes where scientists have found ample evidence of near-surface ice, either as glaciers inside craters or flowing down hollows and mesa walls, or as vast ice sheets that cause craters to warp and deform when formed.

At this location however there does not appear to be any evidence of near-surface ice. Instead, the parallel striations suggest that once a glacier flowed here, with the grooves suggesting the direction of flow as its base scratched the bedrock on which it sat, and which now is exposed and completely visible. The patches are places more resistant to that glacial ice flow, and was thus not eroded as the ice moved over it.

Yet, why is this spot so dry, compared to so much of the mid-latitudes where evidence of ice is so frequently found? Maybe past images gave a wrong impression. Maybe they were evidence of confirmation bias on my part, where because scientists are interested in the ice in the mid-latitudes their MRO images tended to favor locations where that ice is found, and thus gave me the incorrect impression that ice covered most of the mid-latitudes. Instead, maybe there is a lot of barren spots in the mid-latitudes, like this one.

Or maybe this barren spot is the exception that proves the rule. Or maybe it isn’t as barren as it appears at first glance, and there is buried ice here, though not obvious.

Your guess is as good as mine. Because at this moment much of what we are doing is guessing, based on the limited information available.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

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