As far as we can tell, Mars is a desolate-looking desert, with no obvious life. Sure, there may still be microbes there, but I think it's safe to say that there is not an advanced civilization living on the Red Planet. But was it always that way? Did Mars once host a bustling civilization, one that perhaps was capable of nuclear warfare? Let's check in with some conspiracy theorists to find out.
I'm going to let Andrew, a guy who runs the UFO Sightings Cape Town YouTube page, set the scene.
"There are literally hundreds of building ruins in a few of NASA's panoramic images. What has happened on Mars? Was it a Nuclear WAR, or perhaps Asteroid hits? The fact of the matter is, that there are many pockets of living humanoids all over Mars," he wrote on a YouTube video showcasing some of these "building ruins."
Let's just put this out there. This is one of the fringiest of fringe conspiracy theories out there. Andrew is probably just a wee bit off his rocker, but he didn't randomly make up the idea that there was civilization on Mars and that it could have died in a nuclear WAR.
For that, let’s take a look at an excerpt from Did Spacemen Colonize the Earth?, a book published by Robin Collyns in 1976. Earlier in the following passage, Collyns argues that there certainly were nuclear explosions on Mars.
"It is difficult to imagine a nuclear explosion on Mars that was not deliberately caused," Collyns writes. "It is very likely that the explosion was made for some constructional purpose. Thus, the [nuclear observations] can serve as one of the proofs in the favor of existence of rational life on mars."
Pseudoscience and wild conjecture are fun, but John Brandenburg, a plasma physicist who got his degree from UC Davis and who has seemingly had a relatively normal, distinguished career for a scientist, has staked his reputation on his theory that Martian life was, perhaps purposefully, destroyed with nukes.
Brandenburg’s appearance on Supreme Master Television Screengrab: Supreme Master Television
In an oddly disconcerting interview with "Supreme Master Television," a thoroughly bizarre station run by the Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association cult, Brandenburg notes that Mars had two ancient humanoid civilizations, called Cydonia and Utopia, which had a level of technology similar to that of the ancient Egyptians.
What happened to those Martians? Nukes, he says.
"Two great disasters happened on Mars," he told Supreme Master TV, pointing to Utopia on a map. "One here, and then an asteroid impact happened here, and Cydonia was right in between them. That's puzzling. Why would so many bad things happen in one area of mars that just so happened to have archaeology on it?"
That was back in 2011. Since then, Brandenburg has decided that both disasters were nukes, and possibly “natural” nuclear explosions that could have been caused by some cosmic weirdness like an asteroid hitting radioactive material or something like that. Today, however, he has upped the ante.
This weekend, he's going to present new research at a meeting of the American Physical Society that he says proves that there were indeed nuclear explosions on Mars and that they are consistent with nuclear bomb "airbursts," meaning that there's no possible way these were natural. He said in a statement emailed to me that the evidence he's found is "consistent with mixed fusion-fission explosions."
Here's his case, set to be published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astrophysics, a journal that just published a study about the Big Bang being a hologram:
"The high concentration of Xenon-129 atmosphere, the evidence from Krypton-80 and the detected pattern of excess abundance of Uranium and Thorium on Mars surface, relative to Mars meteorites, first seen by the Russians and now confirmed by the Mars Odyssey Spacecraft Gamma Ray Spectrometer, mean that the surface of Mars was apparently the site of massive radiological events, which created large amounts of signature isotopes and covered the surface with a thin layer of radioactive debris enriched in certain elements relative to its subsurface rocks. This pattern of phenomenon can be explained as due to two large anomalous nuclear explosions on Mars in the past."
So, there's the theory. Reading that, it’s possible, until you get to the last line, to think that hey, here’s a scientist who thinks something weird happened on Mars—the idea of there being a naturally occurring nuclear explosion on a planet that has radioactive elements on it hasn’t been completely ruled out by NASA, after all.
Or we can just read the conclusion to his paper, a preprint version of which he shared with me.
“Given the large amount of nuclear isotopes in Mars atmosphere resembling those from hydrogen bomb tests on Earth, Mars may present an example of civilization wiped out by a nuclear attack from space,” he wrote.
“It is possible the Fermi Paradox means that our interstellar neighborhood contains forces hostile to young, noisy, civilizations such as ourselves," he added. "Such hostile forces could range from things as alien as AI (Artificial Intelligence) ‘with a grudge’ against flesh and blood, as in the movie Terminator, all the way to things as sadly familiar to us as a mindless humanoid bureaucrat like Governor Tarkin in Star Wars, eager to destroy planet Alderann as an example to other worlds.”