I doubt I need to explain to anyone that NASA landed a new rover on Mars last week. I have been looking forward to it for a while and am excited about what it is going to find and the picture it is going to send back to earth. The whole landing process was a fantastic technical achievement in itself and for anyone who has not seen it, I thoroughly recommend the movie & Minutes of Terror (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki_Af_o9Q9s) which describes the complex process and just why such a crazy method was required. Thankfully it all panned out and the hard work that went into just the landing paid off. Now lets see what happens next.
For those with an XBOX 360 Kinect, there is also the free game of the landing (http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-GB/Product/Mars-Rover-Landing /66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258480836). I’ve not yet managed a safe one, but then I’ve only had two or three attempts so far, I need to find myself some more free time.
But what about the life?
Several blog commentators have focused on the rover having the ability to detect the early building blocks of life. The mission is much more than that, it’s a mission designed to find out more about the past environment of Mars and more detail on its geologic makeup. Technicalities aside, this is a mission that is connected with life possibly evolving somewhere other than on earth.
Now that life will never be anything other than small microbes. No one is seriously suggesting that anything that could be classed as intelligent has ever existed on Mars. There certainly won’t be any fossil bones being dug up or discovered on Mars.
When I think about that fact in the mind-set of my former creationist self I am immediately dismissive of the importance of finding these microbes. Of course those are not life I would say, they are a natural process that happens everywhere. That does nothing to disprove God’s creation and if anything a wet Mars with flowing water but nothing evolved would prove creationism. In fact my previous creationist self was so confident that Earth was the only place God put people that I utterly dismissed the idea that any intelligent life could exist out there. By out there I mean anywhere that’s not Earth.
One (relatively) recent event that served to strengthen that attitude was when NASA released photos of a landslip on a crater wall on Mars. The news and items at the time suggested that they could be the result of wet in the sand, either ground ice thawing or another method of getting moisture into the sand and causing slip. Something like in this document (http://www.raschultzunr.net/pdf%20reprints/NeufferRAS-VM06.pdf), the photos in that document don’t look familiar so it may not be that specific event I am talking about, just one like it. It was a few years back now and I can’t recall all the exact details.
Anyway, NASA released the photos and I had fun looking at them. I heard the news about them being wet caused but when I looked at them I genuinely doubted the wet story and said they were dry sand slips. A few weeks later, NASA announced that they were in deed dry sand slips, I was vindicated. I was right, NASA was wrong and that proved creationism and that there was no life outside of Earth. Yes, I really did interpret that small vindication as an absolute victory.
So What’s changed?
Well, now I am excited about the prospect of NASA’s new Curiosity rover finding stuff not yet found before. Clues to what the atmosphere once consisted of, more evidence of volumes of flowing water; who cares what it is, it is going to be interesting no matter.
My attitude to life elsewhere has changed. If it is found I welcome it. If it does exist (no matter the form) I would be excited. I’m not expecting proof of anything we could communicate with (though that would be immensely cool) I just want to see and know what there is for us to see and know. I don’t have a preconceived idea on what is or isn’t.
It is not Just Mars either
Saturn’s moon Titan and Jupiter’s moon Europa are likely better candidates in the search for life (http://earthguide.ucsd.edu/virtualmuseum/litu/10_3.shtml).
So here I am, excited about what discoveries are waiting within our Solar System and wishing I had enough years to see them all. My old self who would automatically dismiss what I didn’t like has gone. Now the unknown is welcomed with eager open arms.
- Key to finding life on Mars lies in the deserts of Chile (thehindu.com)
- AIG Reacts to the Martian Landing (sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com)
- Top 5 Attempts to Find Life on Mars (space.com)
- Man will walk on Mars within a generation (telegraph.co.uk)
- Is There Life On Mars? (forest-sea.com)
- Life On Mars? Try One Of Saturn’s Moons Instead (npr.org)
- Life on Mars (strom.wordpress.com)
- Would Religion Survive The Discovery Of Alien Life? (outsidethebeltway.com)