Michael Ellis

Mars has been the news lately because scientists have discovered molecules on a Martian meteorite that look like they may have been made by some kind of life form. As a young boy I was quite taken with Mars. Even then it seemed like such a “guy” planet. It was easy to find in my little telescope because of its distinct color. Most of the ancients associated Mars with the darker side.

To the Babylonians Mars was Nergal, lord of the underworld. The Greeks called it Ares, the god of War. And Mars reigned over the bloodstained battlefields of the militant Romans. To them Mars was second only to Jupiter in power and importance. Presumably the planets red color suggests blood and evil. And I guess the planet is totally male, the symbol for Mars is the familiar circle with arrow pointing out and upward. This supposedly stands for a shield and spear. Freud might have disagreed with this interpretation however.

Mars fascinated the famed astronomer Percival Lowell who at the end of the last century was certain there was life on Mars. In a powerful new telescope he built he saw perfectly straight canals over 100 miles long. He noted the varying color of Mars through the year and attributed the change to the seasonal growth of vegetation. The esteemed Lowell boldly concluded that the canals were built by intelligent creatures to irrigate fields of crops. This conjures up fantastic images of Martian melons, Astral artichokes, Canal corn, God o’ War beets and Cosmic cucumbers.

Now of course we know that the color red is not from Martian blood but from iron oxide in the soil. Mars is rusty. The canals are a result of an optical illusion. Humans have a tendency to create order and patterns out of a random array of shapes. The seasonal color change is from gigantic dust storms that rage across the planet not from plants. And, with apologies to H.G. and Orsen Wells, no detectable evidence of higher life has actually been found only the suggestion that there may have once been life millions of years ago. Oh well it is still a cool planet.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.



Posted on

December 1, 2010