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To MARS with MER - Life?
Are we alone? Itís probably a question our ancestors asked as they sat around campfires and looked up in the clear, dark skies of pre-history, and saw the stars glinting brightly.
In the late 19th Century, many thought Mars was thought to be the most likely abode of life beyond Earth. The astronomers Giovanni Schiaparelli, Italian, and Percival Lowell, American, both looked through telescopes and believed they saw patterns on Mars indicating the existence of intelligent life: they interpreted what looked like straight lines as channels or "canals" transporting water around a desert planet, home perhaps - if you continued speculating - to an ancient, dying civilization. From such ideas came science fiction stories like H.G. Wellís "War of the Worlds", published in 1898, about a warlike species of Martians invading Earth to take over our resources. In the pre-World War II jitters of 1939, a radio broadcast by the young Orson Welles seemed so realistic that switchboards jammed with callers wanting to know more about the ongoing invasion from Mars!
Even though better telescopes and spacecraft missions to Mars banished the idea of canals (see RESEARCH/ers) some humans still want to believe an intelligent species has existed on our neighboring planet. When the Viking spacecraft sent back a fuzzy image (which a NASA press release described as "face-like") tabloids and other less than scientific sources were quick to talk about a "face on Mars", and assume there must have been a civilization like that of ancient Egypt with its pyramids and Sphinx. They thought this was a gigantic monument to life on Mars. Alas (for who would not thrill to such a glorious tale?) once again better telescopes replaced fiction with cold, hard facts. (The best new views come from NASAís Mars Global Surveyor which clearly shows that the face is a jumble of eroded cliffs and rocks.) The search for life on Mars, however, is by no means over... and in fact is heating up!