Actually, there are a lot of peculiarities to Phobos and Deimos in
popular culture. My argument on Thuria as a hollow world, an
O’Neill Colony, is essentially derived from an analysis of Burroughs text,
overlaid with modern sensibilities. But there’s quite a bit
of peculiar folklore about Phobos as an artificial little world, that is
available for those who go looking for it.
One of these is that the existence of the two Martian moons was actually
predicted by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s
Travels 150 years before astronomers discovered them. In
the section on Laputa, he wrote in unnerving detail of these moons.
Phobos and Deimos were deemed to be very peculiar moons indeed. Their
orbits, their sizes and dimensions, their high albedo all prompted one
Soviet astrophysicist named Iosef Shklovsky to speculate that the Martian
moons might well be artificial structures. He based this in part,
on studies of Phobos orbit which he felt were not sustainable for a natural
Among his reasons were, Shklovsky stated Phobos was being "slowed by
electromagnetic drag and tidal friction more than was possible was an actual
solid moon." Given that Mars no longer has a live magnetic
field, I find myself wondering what ‘electromagnetic drag’ he was talking
about. But you know, that’s Soviet science for you, they couldn’t
have known at the time that there was no magnetic field and therefore no
electromagnetic drag. He also based his findings on what was then
believed to be the thickness of the Martian atmosphere, which seriously
overestimated the actual case.
Now, this finding, sometime in the back in 1958, was no big deal.
The Soviet scientists were always coming up with goofy theories, including
the lysenkoist approach to evolution, and the notion that Tungaska was
a spaceship explosion. Soviet science of the 50's and 60's
seems to be a wilder and hairier place than the west, largely because Soviet
scientists had to spend a lot of time impressing non-scientists in the
party establishment, rather than each other. Thus, a wild and flashy
theory would get you further, politically, than a conservative theory supported
Oddly, Shklovsky found adherents in the west. In particular,
a Dr. Fred Singer, science advisor to President Eisenhower signed on in
1960, supporting the Shklovsky theory.
I’m not sure what Singer’s field of specialty was. But judging
from this corker, from Singer about Phobos “its purpose would probably
be to sweep up radiation in the Mars' atmosphere, so that Martians could
safely operate around their planet.” I wouldn’t put too much faith in the
guy. His conception of a cosmic hoover, while pictaresque, is staggeringly
Astonishingly, a few years later, in 1963, Raymond H. Wilson Jr., Chief
of Applied Mathematics at NASA, climbed on board, stating that "Phobos
might be a colossal base orbiting Mars." He also stated that NASA itself
was considering the possibility.
Now the case for Phobos, based on 'impossible orbital eccentricities'
which suggested that it was a hollow body rather than a solid one, seems
to be one of those conclusive things. A hollow body would mass
much less than a solid one, and its mass would be distributed differently.
You could then dope this out by carefully studying the orbital permutations.
As pure mathematics, it would admit to no errors. The face
on Mars may be subjective, but the structure of Phobos orbit is not.
Nevertheless, the subject faded away. I can’t find any
further serious or semi-serious references to possible artificiality of
Phobos based on orbital mechanics after 1967-69. Which, coincidentally,
would be about the same time that Russian and American space probes were
arriving which would have gotten the most accurate readouts on Martian
conditions, and the best data on orbits yet.
So, my assumption is that the orbit hypothesis simply evaporated.
The data was refined, the mathematics were double checked, and voila, it
turned out that there wasn’t anything patently artificial in Phobos orbit
Meanwhile, a few years later, as pictures from space probes began to
come in, it became clear that Phobos was a lot weirder looking than anyone
had imagined. For one thing, there was an immense deep crater
in one side of the moon, something that might have looked suspiciously
like an airlock. For another, there was a series of reasonably
straight, reasonably parallel lines or grooves streaking across the surface.
Unfortunately, these images came out at an inopportune time.
Well after the death of Shklovsky’s hollow satellite theory, and well before
the Cydonia theories. So, for the most part, Phobos remarkable
features were considered ‘remarkable’ and nothing more.
Still, if we take a look at it, it’s quite visually arresting.
Just for the record, here's one of Deimos.
Of course, it was inevitable that Phobos would get swept up in the Cydonia
theories, particularly as those theories lost any basis in reality and
became outright projection fantasies. Here are a few cute links.
Soviet probe meets ufo
on Phobos mission?
Chain Craters of Phobos
UFO Area Phobos
The favourite loony theory appears to be that there was a possible spaceship
or foreign object hanging around Phobos that destroyed one of Earth’s space
probes. This is less Cydonia, and much more conspiracy theory.
But it all intersects. Other researchers have concentrated on peculiar
‘crater chains’ or anomalous boulders.
Carlotto's animation shows the Face as seen from the
direction of the "City" based on Viking and MGS data.