Life on Mars Help

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 16, 2011

Introduction to Life on Mars

The temperature on Mars never rises above the freezing point as we know it on Earth. At night in the winter, Mars would make Antarctica seem inviting by comparison. As if this were not bad enough, the Sun blasts the surface with ultraviolet radiation because the air is not thick enough to shield against it. Some high-speed solar particles also might reach the surface following solar flares.

What Might Live There?

If there is any sort of life remaining on Mars, it must be a primitive sort of bacteria or virus or some hardy “germ” similar to the toughest organisms on Earth. Even these life forms would not be found on the surface but underground.

After the invention and deployment of the first telescopes in the seventeenth century, some observers of Mars claimed to see straight lines connecting the dark areas near the equator with the polar caps. Percival Lowell, one of the most noted astronomers of all time, theorized late in the nineteenth century that these canals logically would have been constructed by a civilization intent on surviving a planet whose climate was becoming ever-more hostile. Numerous canals , as they were called, were mapped by some observers. These were optical illusions; the orbiter probes showed no such canals (although the dried-up river beds they did see were every bit as interesting and were no illusion).

No sign of life has ever been found on Mars. There is no indication that intelligent life has ever set foot (or appendage of any other sort) on its surface.

Science-fiction writers have taken advantage of the fact that Mars, while not a hospitable place by Earthly standards, at least presents an environment where life might survive with the proper equipment. Thus H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds , published around the year 1900, created a cult of people who believed in the existence of native Martians. Ironically, it was our own Earthly disease bacteria that prevented us, in this horrifying tale, from being annihilated by the gigantic, slimy aliens whose ships came streaking down like meteorites and who stalked our planet in armored contraptions resembling nothing humanity had ever seen before.

True Aliens

Mars has been suggested as a possible colony for pioneers from Earth. Perhaps the water ice in the permafrost can be released, plants can be introduced to provide oxygen for the atmosphere, and other large-scale operations can be launched in an attempt to make Mars into an Earthlike place. However, the obstacles to such a project are formidable indeed. The low surface gravity, the lack of a substantial magnetic field to protect against the solar wind, and the possibility that the undertaking could create some horrible, incurable new disease strains must all be taken into consideration. Arguably, it will be far easier to control the population explosion on our own planet so that it never becomes necessary to colonize Mars.

Despite all the naysayers, we Earth dwellers undoubtedly will try to go to Mars. Why? Because it is there, and we have the technology to get there. Who knows? Maybe we will find primitive life there. Maybe Mars bases will be built. Maybe people will learn to think of the Red Planet as their home, being born, educated, and employed there. We will then, by all rights, be entitled to call ourselves colonizers of space! However, it will take a special sort of human being to endure the rigors of a life spent on Mars.

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