Mars Conspiracy ‘Truthers’ React to NASA’s Water Announcement

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NASA announced September 28 that scientists had discovered evidence of flowing water on present-day Mars, but conspiracy theorists and commentators, including Rush Limbaugh, are skeptical. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Following NASA’s announcement yesterday that scientists had discovered traces of flowing water on present-day Mars, conspiracy theorists and even political commentators questioned the motives behind the announcement and what the findings could mean.

NASA said on Monday it had discovered recurring slope lineae, seasonal streaks that scientists first observed in 2010. The scientists now say they found evidence of hydrated salts on the slopes, indicating a presence of water.

On his radio show Monday, Rush Limbaugh dismissed NASA’s announcement, saying the agency was falsifying data and promoting claims about climate change. “There’s so much fraud,” he said. “What's to stop them from making up something that happened on Mars that will help advance their left-wing agenda on this planet?” An image for the segment on Limbaugh’s website depicts the face of former Vice President Al Gore superimposed over that of aliens from the 1996 film Mars Attacks!.

Other people questioned whether it was a coincidence that the announcement came a few days before 20th Century Fox releases The Martian, about an astronaut stranded on Mars. NASA denied that it scheduled the announcement to coincide with the movie release, to Yahoo News. Still, following the announcement, the publicity team for the film said on Twitter, referring to the film’s protagonist, “Good news for mankind. GREAT news for Watney.”

As Newsweek has reported, NASA may have participated more on The Martian than on any other collaborations with filmmakers, including for script development, principal photography, marketing and scheduling of the release. Bert Ulrich, multimedia liaison at NASA for film and television, called the process “intense.”

On Monday, Ridley Scott, who directed The Martian, told Yahoo Movies, “I knew that months ago,” referring to the water discovery, though he apparently meant the presence of glaciers on the planet, which scientists had previously detected, not the slopes in the new finding.

However, at least one conspiracy theorist predicted the new findings 15 years ago. Richard Hoagland, co-author of the 2007 New York Times best-seller Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA and a former NASA consultant, reported in 2000 that his research team had found present-day water on Mars in satellite imagery.

“It's pretty unambiguous,” he said at the time. “We can see the crack in the crater wall where the liquid started to flow from, and follow a clear flow path down the slope of the crater mound. The flow patch is dark and wet, indicating it may have been only hours old when [Mars Global Surveyor] photographed it.”

Hoagland has previously told Newsweek that NASA imagery shows remnants of extraterrestrial civilizations, and that NASA is breaking the news to the public subtly, in order to avoid a panic, as suggested in the 1960 Brookings Report that the agency commissioned.

Hoagland and his colleagues have been reviewing NASA’s newly announced findings. “They’re dripping the information out to us very slowly,” says Robin Falkov, Hoagland’s longtime professional and romantic partner. “I truly wonder how fast things will go or can go.”

Ever since the moon landing, some people have met major NASA announcements with skepticism. Mars conspiracists have previously questioned objects that appear in photographs from the Mars Pathfinder and Mars Curiosity rover. Earlier this month, people questioned what appeared to be a floating spoon in one image. NASA said the image showed a natural rock formation.

Also earlier this year, so-called Pluto “Truthers” questioned the New Horizons mission that NASA said captured close-up images of Pluto’s frozen surface.

Conspiracy theorists (along with Internet trolls) brought up some of the questions to NASA scientists during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session yesterday. The scientists have yet to respond to the questions about how NASA would make the announcement if they discovered extraterrestrial life.