“Mars has always been the backyard of our imaginations, the place we might one day live or from where invaders would come in flying saucers to enslave us and steal our water. Our robots have already crossed that space again and again.”
“It is not crazy in astrobiology circles these days to hold the opinion that the life that now envelops Earth started on Mars and then some pilgrim microbe was brought here on an errant asteroid. We know now that the sky is an endless conveyor belt with cosmic riffraff shuffling debris from planet to planet, even star to star, as personified by Oumuamua, the wandering comet from outside our solar system that cruised blithely through the planets last winter. In the fullness of time, everything gets everywhere.
“We could all be Martians, then, continues Dennis Overbye in The New York Times, which could help explain the seemingly endless lure of the Red Planet. The dream of the exile to return to what might once have been Eden. Elon Musk has said he wants to die there, but he’s not ready to go there quite yet.
There it was: Glowering red on the dashboard of the sky like an astrological warning light next to the full Blood Moon Friday. Mars.It was calling brightly out across 35.8 million miles of space, a gulf humans have yearned to cross for as long as they have known that the lights in the sky are places. This week, it is the closest it has been to Earth in 15 years.
That yearning has now been refreshed — if in fact it ever went away — by the discovery of a 12-mile-wide lake under the southern ice cap on Mars by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. An oasis for interplanetary dreamers. Microbes are known to inhabit similar lakes on Earth, and so who knows? Could little Martian bugs be swimming around down there under a mile of ice that keeps the cosmic rays out and keeps the Martian water liquid?
I grew up terrified as well as curious about the place, after I saw the previews of “Invaders From Mars.” The film showed a boy my age seeing a flying saucer go under a hillside, after which the townspeople, including his parents, were kidnapped and turned into robots. My parents never let me see the whole movie.
It paid homage to a part of a mythology that dated to the beginning of the century, of Mars being the dying home of a dying civilization of super smart beings — little green men — hunkered by canals bringing water from the poles. Those visions sprang from a misunderstanding of the work of the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who in 1877 thought he saw long, thin lines he called canali, (channels in Italian) lacing the surface of Mars. Percival Lowell, a socialite and astronomer took the notion seriously and proceeded to map what he thought were cities and canals on the planet.
All that good science fiction melodrama vanished when spacecraft images showed the real planet, cratered and dustblown.
Image at top of page –NASA; below, The Valles Marineris canyon system, 2,500 miles long and 4 miles deep. NASA/JPL/USGS
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"We Could All Be Martians" –Life That Now Envelops Earth May Have Started on Mars (Today's Top Space Headline)