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Under The Martinborough Stars

October 15, 2020 October 2020 No Comments

I am going to make a bet with you dear reader.

After you have finished reading this article you will be doing something. Here goes.

This month we are taking a dark turn into the world of aliens, the vital importance of water and war heroes. We are of course talking about Mars.

Mars is joining the other three planets of Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury in our evening sky, rising around 9pm in the East. Its ruby red colour showing us what the planet is really made of- rust. Those iron rich rocks that encase the planet have reacted with the oxygen and basically turned the planet rusty, just like what happens to your car if you don’t look after it.

Now, those aliens. Not the three-legged laser beam variety written in the Victorian era, but has there been life on Mars before? The evidence is interesting. Most scientists agree that water is the key ingredient for life to exist, but aliens also need a home away from harmful radiation, an atmosphere, and some gases like oxygen. We use our Earth as the example as it is the only place we have found life so far.

The evidence strongly suggests that water was a feature on Mars billions of years ago. We can see dried up river beds and streams, ocean edges and old dried up swamplands. The chances of anything living on Mars are ‘a million to one’ they say. Even a few years ago, few men would have believed there was the possibility of life on the red planet. If we do find life on Mars, they wouldn’t be large creatures but more likely single celled organisms like viruses or bacteria.

So, if there was once water on Mars, where has it gone? Maybe it has evaporated or sunk underground. Of course, we should consider that not all planets will behave like ours. We have found moons with a carbon rich atmosphere and methane lakes, so many variations are possible.

Mars is named after the hero (no not Tom Cruise) but Ares, the God of War in Greek Mythology. His war chariot is pulled by Phobos and Deimos, aka Fear and Panic. These were appropriately chosen names for Mars’s moons. Another red star, Antares – the heart of the scorpion or the blood of Maui is so named as it was often mistaken for Mars. It is also bright red and sits along the ecliptic just like Mars. Antares literally means Ante- Ares, the Rival to Mars.

With Halloween coming up at the end of the month, why not turn to Mars in fiction? Maybe watch Matt Damon in the Martian, Total Recall or the silly Mars Attacks. Or maybe you would like to go for a classic HG Wells chilling alien story while under a starry Martinborough sky, looking up at a forbidding and hostile red planet. 

Anyone humming? I win.

Becky Bateman runs Under The Stars, award winning Wairarapa astronomy tours.

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