Nuclear war on the Red Planet could be a great band name or the title of a pulp comic, but it's actually the premise of a "research paper" by an "expert" published in a "scientific journal." Dr. John Brandenburg published his magnum opus, "Evidence of a Massive Thermonuclear Explosion on Mars in the Past, the Cydonian Hypothesis and Fermi's Paradox," in the Journal of Cosmology.

We live in an age where science fiction has edged closer to reality. Discoveries like the "God particle" and the tease of primordial gravitational waves are enough to evoke a sense of awe and wonder. Most recently, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft managed to place a lander on a comet hurtling through space. But that's nothing compared to the persistent belief that life is out there, somewhere.

"Taken together, the data requires that the hypothesis of Mars as the site of an ancient planetary nuclear massacre must now be considered," reads the abstract of Brandenburg's paper. "Fermi’s Paradox, the unexpected silence of the stars, may be solved at Mars. Providentially, we are forewarned of this possible aspect of the cosmos. The author therefore advocates that a human mission to Mars is mounted immediately to maximize knowledge of what occurred." Bet you never thought you'd see the phrase "planetary nuclear massacre" as part of what is supposed to be scientific research.

There's a lot to unpack here, but it's part of Brandenburg's larger hypothesis that a humanoid civilization once lived on Mars. The "theoretical plasma physicist" wrote a book, "Dead Mars, Dying Earth," and uses photos and data collected by NASA to develop the "Cydonian Hypothesis." Part of the problem is that it's based on so-called evidence that has long been debunked by actual science.

Face on Mars The "Face on Mars." Photo: NASA

Brandenburg uses the "Face on Mars," that infamous photo seen on "The X-Files" and elsewhere, captured by Viking 1 in 1976, as one such proof of life. Sadly, a return trip by the Mars Global Surveyor Extended Mission removes any doubt that the face is little more than an optical illusion.

Face on Mars 2001 A new look at the infamous "Face on Mars." Photo: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Back in 2011, Brandenburg's theory was that a natural nuclear explosion occurred on Mars, but his latest research led him to conclude an advanced race of aliens destroyed two young civilizations.

As for Brandenburg's references to "xenon-129" and radioactive isotopes that could have only been created by a nuclear blast, well, that's not entirely true. The "Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast" details the very natural production of xenon-129 and also notes other flaws in Brandenburg's argument.

Brandenburg's claims may seem dubious, but his work was published in a journal, right? Well, the Journal of Cosmology is no New England Journal of Medicine. In fact, the website looks more like a GeoCities site created back in the early days of the Internet.  The journal is also home to plenty of dubious work, including the notion that NASA is covering up proof of life on Mars and the idea of "Panspermia," the theory that life came to Earth via meteorites.

These claims -- including one by "Jackie," a "former NASA employee," that she saw evidence of life on Mars as part of the Viking mission -- hit on the fascination we have with space and the enduring idea that there is something out there that goes against what we already know. In fact, NASA has found plenty of proof of ancient water on Mars, which supports the theory that the planet could have supported life billions of years ago.

Of course, if you still want to believe the "truth" about life on Mars, there's always a bridge I can sell you.

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