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Mars: Curiosity And Our Planetary Neighbour
Mars sits on the horizon as a reddish twinkle on a clear night's sky, fascinating star gazers for thousands of years.
With space probes in orbit pointing their high-resolution cameras at the surface, we know almost as much about the fourth rock from the sun as we do about the third.
The only difference is that, so far, we can only say that it's a dead planet and put together informed theories about why it hasn't thrived as Earth did.
The answer to that is quite straightforward. With Mars being so much smaller than Earth, the core cooled a lot quicker, volcanic and tectonic activity ceased and then, with no magnetic field, the lesser gravity allowed most of the atmosphere to escape.
If the size of the Martian moons had been in proportion to our own Moon, then internal friction caused by the pull of gravity may have kept the core fluid and the magnetic, protective field able to hold onto the atmosphere.
But that's not the way the Solar System panned out and all we can confidently say now is that the environment on Mars "could have" been hospitable to life … and nothing more.
Yes, some of the orbiting probes have found unexplained methane plumes in the thin atmosphere which could be associated with bacterial life, but until we actually put boots on Mars …. scientific boots … then these discoveries will remain a mystery.
The rovers we send there have performed valuable science. Little Sojourner paved the way, Spirit and Opportunity outperformed every expectation we had for them and now the nuclear-powered tank we call Curiosity is trundling its way across miles of the Martian surface, spotting features that can only be formed in water.
"Now we know a lot of H2O is bound up in the Martian soil!"
It's everywhere! And future astronauts will have a fuel source to help them get home again, or even power permanent bases. The hydrogen can produce heat and light and the oxygen will allow them to breathe.
Take a few tomatoes and they won't need to come home any time soon. The first human settlers on Mars hey? Someone should make a reality TV programme about it! Oh wait …
Yes, there is a reality TV programme about it and they're taking applications right now. They want people to settle there permanently. It's the wild, wild west all over again, just a million times more extreme. Will they survive or perish on the red planet?
Personally, I think we'll all get to watch them axe murdering each other when the isolation and confinement - and the realisation that they can never come home - just gets too much. But the TV producers won't mind, after all, the ratings will go through the roof!
I say that it shouldn't be allowed. The scientist must go first and they need to break open a few rocks. Imagine how our entire belief system will change when the image of a Martian fossil appears? It doesn't matter how small or insignificant it is. If it is something similar to the fossils we find on Earth imagine how everything would change?
Some scientists are starting to moot the point about life on earth coming from Mars via massive volcanic eruptions. Olympus Mons could certainly eject some boulders into orbit and there's no reason they wouldn't find their way to Earth given the strong pull of the Sun.
And what about the Panspermia theory that life came here from outside the Solar System? What if we found advanced fossils on Mars like Dinosaurs or even early Mammals? Well a parallel evolution on two separate planets would just be mind blowing, wouldn't it? Which would then allow us to ask the obvious question of "where else is it happening too?"
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I talk often about space and how wonderful and terrible and beautiful and destructive the Universe is, but also about how small and insignificant and special and unique we human beings are.
But are we unique? Are we all originally Martians? Or maybe we're from another part of the galaxy altogether? Sent on our journey by a cataclysmic supernova explosion or a powerful singularity scattering the contents of some alien solar system to the cosmic winds?
"We don't know yet, but we will find out ... eventually!"
Science will answer these questions, not reality TV. I just hope that NASA's latest rover will trundle past a rock outcrop soon and find a dinosaur bone sticking out of it. That's going to freak a few people out!
Then our own curiosity will get the better of us and that'll be when the political will of every nation on the planet will come together and send human beings ... scientists ... to find out why.
And that'll be the real start of humanity's march to the stars.
Love, light and logic ...
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