Noel Gorelick has a Mission: to map Mars. Not by himself, of course, but as a player on a team. He's part of the Mars Odyssey Mission, and he's got one of the best roles in this team. Odyssey is a NASA spacecraft that has been in Mars orbit since November 2001. It's taking pictures of Mars and sending them back to Earth. Gorelick is one of the guys who process these images. He's Manager of Arizona State University's Mars Computation Center, which has direct responsibility for THEMIS image processing.
THEMIS is Odyssey's camera, and it's what makes Odyssey different. There's another active NASA spacecraft in Mars orbit, the MGS or Mars Global Surveyor, and it's also taking pictures--visible-light photos--with its MOC, its Malin Orbital Camera. THEMIS is an infrared camera. To be exact it's a color/IR camera, able to sense up to 15 spectral bands across both the visible and the infrared wavelengths.
This means THEMIS can see things MOC can't. It can detect and image subtle temperature differences of less than 0.5°C. If there are ruined buildings buried under the Martian sands, THEMIS might just see them: the buildings would cool faster than the sand, so their geometrical outlines should show up in IR images.
Processing infrared images is very different from processing visible-light images. Gorelick is good at it, at "remote sensing." He knows all about the accepted algorithms and the standard procedures for processing multi-spectral images. Gorelick also knows that THEMIS doesn't just stand for Thermal Emission Imaging System. He knows that Themis was a Greek goddess...the goddess of, no, not of infrared light...but of Justice.
On May 5, 2002, Odyssey's orbit takes it over the Cydonia region of Mars, and THEMIS takes a picture. NASA and ASU will eventually release this image, THEMIS IR image 20020724A, to the public by publishing it on the THEMIS website. But they'll take their time about it. They'll probably wait a couple of months or so, and release it sometime in July or August.
Gorelick goes to work on the image and sees that infrared technology has indeed revealed something new: buried under the sands of Cydonia are lots of regularly spaced rectilinear blocks, aligned to true North and South, which are very probably the ruins of a lost city. Over thousands of years, dust and sand have covered these buildings, so that the previous visible-light images of Cydonia showed only a smooth plain with craters here and there, and some hills and rocks. Well, Cydonia also became famous for certain interesting features jutting out above the smooth pain, features now popularly known as the Face, the Cliff, the Tholus, the D&M Pyramid, etc.
Certain factions think those features must be artificial, but NASA has always maintained that they are natural. Now all those buildings under the sand will undermine NASA's position.
Is there a way out? Well, the raw images don't show the buildings. You have to process and enhance them first, using sophisticated software. You have to have a graphics program that can do things like "decorrelation stretch."
NASA's top brass order Gorelick to prepare a version of THEMIS IR image 20020724A that, when enhanced and processed, will NOT show the buildings.
So that's what Gorelick does. First he degrades 20020724A by resampling it to reduce its resolution. Then he takes a visible-light photo of the same area, cuts and positions it till it's a twin of the IR image, and overlays it on top on the IR image. He then applies a sharpen filter to this composite. Along the way he also adds as much white noise as he dares. If done right, nobody should be able to tell that the composite isn't raw data. Gorelick takes his time and does a superb job. It looks just like an original image from THEMIS, raw data waiting to be processed and enhanced. The difference is, if you do process and enhance it, you won't get anything much out of it.
If Noel Gorelick has a Mission (caps), does he also has a mission (lowercase)? Let's suppose he does, and that this other, personal, mission is to get the real image out to the world. Now, it would never do to simply publish the enhanced version of THEMIS IR image 20020724A. No, the way to do it would be to publish just the raw data, the real, honest-to-goodness, unretouched raw data. Then all those enthusiasts out there can go to work on it, enhance it, squeeze it and wring it out...and feel the thrill of discovery when they come up with a view of the buildings buried under the sands.
How to do this under NASA's nose?
The place to go is The Enterprise Mission, Richard Hoagland's website, at <www.enterprisemission.com>. This website has a forum, a forum that works just like PEx, and you can reach it by clicking on the "Conference Room" link. Sometime in late June 2002 a newcomer enters, registers under the nick Bamf, and begins posting. He starts new threads. He posts replies to existing threads. Unlike PEx, which deals with all topics under the sun, TEM's Conference Room is rather specialized. The main topics are Mars, the Moon, space flights, UFOs, the paranormal, things like that. This newcomer, in the personal profile that you fill up when you register, describes himself as Manager of the Mars Computation Center at Arizona State. If Bamf is indeed Noel Gorelick then his entry into TEM's Conference Room might be in the nature of a reconnaissance mission. Could be he's looking for somebody who, from the way he talks in his posts, must be an imaging specialist. Could be he's looking for someone to whom he can give the original version of 20020724A.
In TEM, which is full of people who have studied images of the Face on Mars and the Blair Bicuspids on the Moon and the Monolith on Phobos and other anomalies like that, Bamf soon finds several candidates. But the nick that keeps cropping up is that of Bullitt. Bamf eventually sees that all of them look up to Bullitt. As an imaging specialist, Bullitt is widely considered to be second to none. Bamf posts a reply in a thread where Bullitt has just posted. Bullitt posts again, replying to Bamf's comments. And so on. As in PEx, posters can send private messages to each other, and Bamf and Bullitt do that. They also exchange e-mail addresses.
Bullitt has done a lot of work on visible-light images. He's got a website, <http://www.gohttp://server2044.virtualave.net/bullitt> which further convinces Bamf that Bullitt is the right guy for this. Bullitt, whose real name is Keith Laney, is a digital imaging and software applications specialist and he's been hired as an MOC image processor for the NASA-Ames' MOC MER2003 Landing Sites Project. (For more about that Project go to <http://marsoweb.nas.nasa.gov/landingsites/index.html>.)
Bullitt doesn't have much experience with infrared image processing, but Bamf doesn't see that as a drawback. Bullitt is a quick learner. In their private messages and e-mail exchanges, Bamf quietly begins teaching Bullitt the finer points of multi-spectra image processing and enhancement.
Bullitt will need to do decorrelation stretch, and while Gorelick has it on the computers he's got for his THEMIS imaging work, Bullitt, who works on a desktop at home, can only get it from commercially available software. Fortunately the Kodak Corporation has just come up with one, an application called ENVI 3.5, and although they haven't put it on the market yet, they'll provide it to qualified people who can help them test it out. Bamf persuades Bullitt to try and get this new cutting-edge imaging software. Bullitt is successful, and is granted a license for ENVI 3.5.
The reworked THEMIS IR image 20020724A is published on the THEMIS website on July 24, 2002. Normally the release of an image is accompanied by the release of its ancillary data. The ancillary data tells you the exact position of the spacecraft at the time the picture was taken. It tells you which orbit the Odyssey was in, where it was in relation to the subject, how far it was from the subject, and how far it was from the subject's vertical. It tells you the camera angle and settings, the time of day and therefore the sun position and the lighting conditions...all very useful information for image analysts. On this occasion, however, it's just the image that's released. No ancillary data.
As soon as 20020724A is published on July 24, interested parties rush to download it and work on it. Keith Laney is not one of them. The next day he gets on mIRC, using the server irc.anomalies.net, then joins TEM's chat channel, #enterprisemission, under his nick Bullitt. Bamf is there, and several others, all regular posters in TEM's Conference Room. They all ask him if he's downloaded the new THEMIS image and Bullitt says he hasn't.
"I took one look at it," Bullitt says, "and I could see right away that it sucks."
He's got a point. THEMIS is a color/IR camera, but this image isn't full-color and multi-spectral as Odyssey's Project Scientist, Dr. Saunders, in a press release beforehand, had said it would be. It's just four side-by-side multiple-band strips of the same landscape. And it's in grayscale. It doesn't look like it's got all that THEMIS is capable of.
Bamf tells Bullitt he should go ahead and download it just the same. Bullitt declines. Bamf goads him. It takes a lot of persuasion but finally, on July 25, 2002, at 10:27 p.m. (that's EDT; Bullitt lives in North Carolina), Bullitt downloads the full-size TIFF from <http://themis.la.asu.edu/zoom-20020724A.html>.
What Bullitt doesn't know is that somebody has taken note of his IP address and set things up so that when he logs in to the official THEMIS website, he gets redirected to a mirror website...one that looks exactly like the official THEMIS page, but which instead contains the unretouched version of 20020724A.
Bullitt goes to work on the image, applies a little Gaussian blur to it, does destriping, does luminance layering, does decorrelation stretch...and offers his results (three-color composites) to TEM's Principal Investigator, Richard Hoagland. The "Captain," as Hoagland is called within TEM, snaps it up and writes a nice piece about it, "Ghost Town...and The Darkness..." which he posts on September 5, 2002. Hoagland calls the image a "smoking gun" that proves the presence of artificial structures in the Cydonia region of Mars. Hoagland does have a penchant for hyperbole, but one has to admit his pieces can be quite gripping at times. You can read them for yourself at <www.enterprisemission.com>.
So, for Noel Gorelick, or whoever Bamf is, it's mission accomplished. But wait a minute, why the nick Bamf? Well, as any computer geek knows, "to bamf" is to redirect someone to a different server or webpage, with or without their knowledge.
As Bullitt said in a September 6 post in TEM's Conference Room, "Bamf bamfed me."