Life on Mars!

The Beagle Project's new colleagues over at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have spent many billions of dollars over the years trying to discover signs of life on Mars. Their latest magnificent endeavour is the Phoenix Mars Lander, which earlier this year identified water in a sample of soil it had collected from the planet's surface. As I type, the plucky, little lander continues to carry out excellent scientific work before the harsh Martian winter finally takes grip.

But Nasa could have saved themselves an awful lot of time, money and effort trying to establish the presence of water—and, indeed, life—on Mars, had they simply consulted the only scientific publication of record. Popular Scientific Recreations, Profusely Illustrated (pp. 524–526) has this to say on the subject of Mars:

Mars seen from the earthIt is quite ascertained that Mars is very like our earth in miniature. We annex a diagram of the planet, and when it is examined with a good telescope the seas and continents can be quite distinctly perceived. At the poles there appears to be a white or snowy region at varying periods, which would lead us to the conclusion that the atmospheric changes and the seasons are similar to our own; and as the inclination of the planet is nearly the same as the earth, this supposition may be accepted as a fact.

Thus we see that Mars is the most like earth of all the planets, and its inhabitants—if, indeed, it is now inhabited—must have a beautiful view of us when the weather is fine, for we are so much larger…

There have been numerous theories concerning Mars being inhabited, and of course these suggestions made respecting life on one planet may, with varying circumstances, be applied to another. Each planet may have had, or may yet have, to pass througn what has been termed a "life-bearing stage". We on earth are at present in the enjoyment of that stage. So far as we can tell, therefore, Mars may be inhabited now, as he bears much the same appearance as our planet. Certain changes are going on in Mars, and all planets, just as they go on here in our earth, and as they did long, long ages before the earth was populated, and which will continue to go on after life on the earth has ceased to exist…

That there are clouds and aqueous atmosphere surrounding Mars we learn from spectroscopic observation and analysis, and in fine we may look upon Mars as similar to our earth. Respecting the question of its habitation we take the liberty to quote Mr. Richard Proctor:—

"I fear my own conclusion about Mars is that his present condition is very desolate. I look on the ruddiness of tint to which I have referred as one of the signs that the planet of war has long since passed its prime. There are lands and seas in Mars, the vapour of water is present in his air, clouds form, rains and snows fall upon his surface, and doubtless brooks and rivers irrigate his soil, and carry down the moisture collected on his wide continents to the seas whence the clouds had originally been formed. But I do not think there is much vegetation on Mars, or that many living creatures of the higher types of Martian life as it once existed still remain.

Chart of Mars, showing continents and oceans

"All that is known about the planet tends to show that the time when it attained that stage of planetary existence through which our earth is now passing must be set millions of years, perhaps hundreds of millions of years ago. He has not yet, indeed reached that airless and waterless condition, that extremity of internal cold, or in fact that utter unfitness to suport any kind of life, which would seem to prevail in the moon. The planet of war in some respects resembles a desolate battle-field, and I fancy that there is not a single region of the earth now inhabited by man which is not infinitely more comfortable as an abode of life than the most favoured regions of Mars at the present time would be for creatures like ourselves."

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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