Mars – rocky, cold, dusty, lifeless, boring wasteland right? An endless parade of stones, boulders, gravel, grit, right to the horizon, all beneath a huge, dull orange-pink empty sky, right?
Not so much.
There’s beauty everywhere to be seen on Mars. It’s just not being photographed. For good reason – lack of power, higher scientific priorities, etc – but it’s there, waiting to be seen and captured, I’m convinced of it.
Mars has – I have always insisted, and will never stop insisting – an epic, primal beauty all of its own. The rocks scattered everywhere have been sculpted into incredible geometrical shapes by aeons of sandblasting by the planet’s kitten snore-soft winds, the same gentle breezes which have piled the talcum powder fine dust up into beautiful dunes; the sky is a cathedral dome ceiling painted by Nature with a palette of gold, butterscotch and peach; the planet’s geology has carved its landscape into towering mountains, deep valleys and wide open Big Country plains. After long, freezing nights, with a sky dusted with millions of never-twinkling stars, undimmed and undisturbed by the planet’s apology for an atmosphere, the sunsets and sunrises are slow motion explosions of cold fire, the dusk or dawn’s initial silver and blue sky icy hues shifting slowly to warmer lemon and caramel as the copper coin Sun climbs higher into the sky, slowly clearing the mountains piled up on the horizon, painting them first purple, then copper, until they’re fully lit from above, each and every crag, ledge and ridge bathed in cold sunlight. In the shadows of the rocks and stones strewn everywhere, frost twinkles and glitters briefly, until touched by sunlight, then it disappears like a genie…
Mars isn’t just a planet for scientists; it’s a planet for artists, poets and dreamers too.
One day, just as Earth does, Mars will have its own artists and poets, who will rejoice in its light, its rocks and its beauty. Like the artists and poets of Earth, they’ll travel to its epic places, with the tools of their trade, their easels and paints, notebooks and pens, to paint them and write about them. They’ll stand on the edge of Valles Marineris, in the shadow of Olympus Mons, and at the poles, drowning in their glory. The works of art and the poems they produce will be curiosities at first, loved by some, ignored by others, derided by still others. But eventually, one day, some of them will be spoken of in the same way as Turner, Wordsworth and all those other giants we love so much today.
Mars is waiting for them.
If I’d been born in a hundred years time, I think I’d have been one of those martian artists, I really do. Probably not a good one, definitely not a great one, but I’d have had a go! Somehow, some way, I’d have made it to Mars, done whatever it took to get there – cleaned out the gloop in the hydroponics module or mucked out the barn where the cloned mini sheep and cows were kept, whatever – and then, in my time off, I’d have headed Out, to Somewhere Amazing. I’d have taken a shuttle to Marineris and sat there for hours with my paints (or more likely my camera, as I paint like a chimp!), just watching the light changing, following the mists shifting down on its floor, seeing the shadows of the cliffs, scarps and ledges swing around and lengthen as the hours passed and the Sun slid across the butterscotch sky, trying to take at least one photograph that did it justice. I’d have hitched a lift on a rover up to the pole, and spent time there walking across the icefields, boots crump-crumping in the dry ice snow, before finding a big meteorite to sit down on and drink in the view from, before trying to immortalise what I was seeing and feeling in a poem.
But it’s 2012, and the closest I will ever get to Mars is this – writing my “astropoems” about Mars, and looking at images of it, taken by the rovers, on my computer monitor, blogging about them, and wondering what it would be like to be seeing these places with eyes instead of cameras, and to have the time to see, and capture, the real beauty of Mars.
And doing my best, using those images and my computer, to show what people will see in the future.
So, here is my latest attempt to do that – a raw image of the mountains on the horizon of Gale, but changed into what I think the scene might look like at a special time of day. It’s just a fanciful image, not intended to be particularly scientific or accurate, so the position of the Sun might well be impossible, the colour of the sky not quite right, the shadows not oriented perfectly, but to be honest, I don’t care. This is a vision of Mars, a personal vision, what I see in my head, and feel in my heart, when I think about Mars. If you like it, that’s great. If you don’t, then fair enough. It’s neither right nor wrong, it’s just a picture.
It’s my Mars.
That’s a picture Curiosity could take (or something like it) but probably never will, for very practical reasons. But it’s a picture that’s there, waiting to be taken. I’ll cross my fingers; they might surprise me!
Actually, something I saw this morning gave me hope that the beauty of Mars might yet be seen. Curiosity is, as you know from following this blog, currently parked up at and studying a rather large, triangular-shaped rock. Well, when I checked the picture feed this morning, I saw something… lovely. The composition might just have been a fluke, the result of the rover having to be in a certain place, parked at a certain angle, in order for its instruments to be used effectively on the rock, but that doesn’t matter. The view is really nice…
Whoever it was on the MSL team who planned and scheduled that image – thank you.
Maybe we’ll see a beautiful martian sunrise one day, too…
( Note: I’ve straightened the horizon on that image just to reduce the distortion. )