Science fiction fans know a lot about Mars. Fans of H.G. Wells know there is life there, watching us keenly and closely with far greater intelligence than man’s. Fans of Doctor Who know not to drink Martian water. Fans of really bad B-movies know the bad guys of Mars are no match for Santa Claus (if you haven’t heard about this movie before, you need to click here).
Scientists are finally catching up. Mars, they once said, is too harsh an environment for life to exist. It doesn’t have liquid water. It doesn’t have any protection from cosmic radiation. It doesn’t have the carbon compounds needed for life as we know it.
Now they aren’t so sure. They’ve found evidence of liquid water, and maybe that excess radiation from space isn’t so bad after all. It is possible, they say, for microbial life to exist on Mars (which is why you shouldn’t drink the water). As for those carbon compounds… a new probe is scheduled to launch this weekend to check on that.
The Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity Rover, is the biggest, most sophisticated machine ever sent to Mars. It’s the size of a car, carries ten different scientific instruments, and NASA says it has enough plutonium fuel to keep it running for at least two years… probably more. It will land in a place called Gale Crater, where it will examine exposed layers of ancient rock and search for organic compounds in Martian soil.
No doubt Curiosity will find evidence of what we Sci-Fi fans and Santa Claus already know: there is life on Mars… life that apparently doesn’t know the true meaning of Christmas.