The beauty of Barsoom…

Mars offers us beauty on many scales. Stand on Mars with me now, beside Curiosity, in your imagination, and take a look around. Look up and see the huge, wide open butterscotch-hued sky…

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Look down at your feet and see the chips and shards and jagged broken pottery-like fragments of stone covered in the ever-present ochre dust…

ground

Look up again, and sweep your gaze around the horizon, taking in the view of the floor of Gale Crater, with its rises and hummocks, ledges and outcrops, dust dunes and boulders, with thousands, no, tens of thousands, no, hundreds of thousands, no, millions of rocks and stones scattered all around…

pano dec 18b

pano dec 18n

Now take a look over there, yes, over there, on that flat plate of rock. What is that? Go over and take a closer look… kneel down, slowly in the low gravity, and stare into it through your helmet’s dust-streaked visor… what is that…?

0122MR0765000000E2_DXXX dome

What happened there? Was that a dome of rock that somehow fractured and collapsed in on itself like one of Oswin’s soufles? Or was it once a bubble of gas rising up from beneath the surface which popped, leaving a broken shell of thin rock behind? Or were there once dragons on Mars, great noble Barsoomian beasts with wings that stretched for hundreds of metres to allow them to fly in the thin martian air, and this is the fossilised remains of one of their eggs? Whatever it is, whatever it once was, it’s beautiful, and how you wish you could take off your helmet and see it properly, without the glass of the visor in the way, withoutt it being dimmed by dust outside and the mist of your breath inside… Then it would look something like this…

0122MR0765000000E2_DXXX dome3

That, my friends, is the beauty of Barsoom…

In praise of rocks…

Curiosity is now a photo-taking demon. Every day literally hundreds of new images come back, showing the spectacular scenery inside Gale Crater, and it’s easy to miss a day and miss out on some truly spectacular scenes. I check in with the images as often as I can, several times a day in fact, but still I know I’m missing stuff! But what I have seen and what I am seeing regularly is just spectacular, and it’s giving me a whole new appreciation for the science of geology. It’s also adding to my already high level of frustration that I don’t know more about geology myself, because I see the rocks, the dust dunes, and the surrounding hills, and I know nothing about them apartfrom the basics. It’s very frustrating, and quite saddening too.

The thing is, the images being returned by Curiosity are *so* busy, contain so *much* beautiful geology, that it’s tempting – and, after you’ve done it once, easy – to just skim over them visually, to kind of “speed read” them if you know what I mean. You pick out a rock or two, maybe drawn to its unusual shape, or colour, or the weird, freaky angle it’s laying at on the surface, but the rest? Just background noise, geological static. Next image please…

Take this next image for instance. It’s actually a mosaic I’ve stitched together out of several individual frames… if you want to see it in all its glory, click on it to enlarge it but remember, for some reason WordPress has changed the way it enlarges images, so you’ll have to click on another link *above* the image when you see it on its own page… I know, bizarre, but what can you do…?

pano2 dec16

Now that’s a VERY busy picture, isn’t it? So many rocks! SO many different shapes, and sizes, textures and angles… a couple of those rocks jump out at you because they look so striking, but there’s so much clutter there that it’s a bit like a martian Magic Eye picture (ha! showing my age now! Younger readers – Google search for “Magic Eye”, they were all the rage back in the Ice Age…!). So what I did was pull a few rocks out of that image and isolate them, beneath it, to highlight just what a bewildering and beautiful variety of rocks and stones there are here in Gale…

rocks of gale crater

Ah, now you can see… look at the differences! There are flat, platey, round-edged, heavy-looking slabs of smooth rock that look like fat paving stones… there are angular shards of much darker rock, with rough edges and roughened faces that look like debris from a bombed-out building… there are plates of rocks stacked on top of each other… there are long, sharp blades of much lighter stone.. there are rocks with banding visible on their sides…

WHY?!?!? Why are they different? Why do they look the way they do? What stories do these rocks tell the mission scientists? I wish they’d tell us that. I wish someone would give us a Beginner’s Guide to Martian Geology, taking a picture like that one of mine, above, and just patiently go over it, picking out rocks, explaining why they look the way they do, how they got to look that way, what studying them can tell us about Mars… That’s not me being lazy, I could do that myself I know, with a couple of hours tapping away on Google, but wouldn’t it be great if a mission scientist did that? It would be like being taken to Mars, in person, by a geologist, and having them walk around the floor of Gale Crater with you, stopping to look at rocks and, kneeling down beside them, tell their story. I would love that, and I’m sure many other people would, too.

Take this image for example, another multi-frame mosaic I’ve stitched together…

pano1 dec16

…or this one, which I’m particularly pleased with…

pano rocks sh

Why are those rocks so dark, and why are they so different to the rocks scattered around them? That fascinates me!

If you – yes, you, reading this right now! – are a geologist who fancies talking us through what we’re seeing, let me know, that would be fantastic!

The gateau layers of Gale…

Been a few days since I updated this blog, I know, but sometimes real life gets in the way! But since the last post Curiosity has been driving, and is now on the edge of an area called “Yellowknife Bay”, which is absolutely stunning. Here’s a magnificent panoramic mosaic put together by the incredibly talented Damien Bouic…

Sol124_postcard_web

Now that’s pretty stunning, right? But if you stretch it vertically to bring out subtle details in the topography… well, you get this…

Sol124_postcard_web zsteretch

Wow… anyone else thinking “dried up river”? That’s beautiful, isn’t it?

But as beautiful as that is, when you look at some of these features in colour, well, they just leap out of the screen, grab you by the throat, and demand to be marveled at. Take a look at the following panoramic mosaics I’ve put together – you’ll need to click on them to enlarge them, and even then they might not enlarge properly because something has changed with WordPress’s display and I don’t know what yet or how to fix it. Anyway, take a look as best you can at the following… and seriously,  take a moment or two to just pour and drool over the many different rock types, textures and shapes, and be astounded by the sheer epic, noble beauty of the Barsoomian landscape…

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Let’s look at some of those features in 3D…

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So, as you can see, Curiosity has some *serious* geology ahead of her. Somewhere up ahead is a rock destined to go down in history as the first rock to be drilled by the first nuclear powered Mars rover…

Speaking of rocks, some more images of those strange ‘rock rings’ have come down, and we can now see them more clearly. I’ve put together two cropped images showing two of the features. I can’t help thinking they look like they were once complete stone domes, which have now all but collapsed and eroded away…

half domes

And there are much bigger whole rocks here too…

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Fascinating, absolutely fascinating. SO much work to do here, so many incredible sights to see…

Go get ‘em Curiosity!

Bubbles and bumps…

Curiosity is on the move again, and has reached what looks to be a pretty spectacular and fascinating place. Mars image magician Damien Bouic assembled a bucketload of new MSL images into this beautiful, sweeping panorama, which you’ll need to click on to enlarge and see in all its glory…

Sol123_pano

Oh, there’s SO much amazing geology waiting here!! Just look at those layers and outcrops! Go get em Curiosity!

But wait… there is some weird stuff here too… What the heck is this?

bubble enh

Let’s zoom in on that…

bubble enh crop

Hmmm… ok… that looks like it was originally a bubble-like structure that either collapsed or just eroded away, doesn’t it? Or was there a rock there that got covered in dust, and when the rock eroded away over time it left a crust behind which has collapsed over time? No idea! But there are more than one of those things around Curiosity…

bubble enh2b

See? There are 4 of the critters visible just on that one small area… Fascinating!

Can’t wait to see what Curiosity sees next…! :-)

Big day tomorrow…

…or rather, “not a very big day tomorrow at all”, because NASA has *finally* put out a statement clarifying the position re the “Earth-shaking” data being collected by Curiosity. The “thunk! thunk! thunk!” sounds you will hear whilst reading this are the final, rusty nails being driven with a mixture of relief and glee by NASA’s press office into the coffin of the story of the ‘historic discovery’ of organics on Mars…

————————————————————————————————

November 29, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. — The next news conference about the NASA Mars rover Curiosity will be held at 9 a.m. PST(12 p.m. EST) Monday, Dec. 3, in San Francisco at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover’s full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.

The Mars Science Laboratory Project and its Curiosity rover are less than four months into a two-year prime mission to investigate whether conditions in Mars’ Gale Crater may have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity is exceeding all expectations for a new mission with all of the instruments and measurement systems performing well. This is spectacular for such a complex system, and one that is operated so far away on Mars by people here on planet Earth. The mission already has found an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet, and there is every expectation for remarkable discoveries still to come.

Audio and visuals from the briefing also will be streamed online at: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl .

For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .

Veronica McGregor/Guy Webster 818-354-9452/ 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
veronica.c.mcgregor@jpl.nasa.gov/ guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

————————————————————————————————-

Well, that’s pretty clear isn’t it? No organics have been discovered by Curiosity yet, so there’s no “life on Mars” angle here, just a fairly standard operational report. Curiosity is driving well, all her instruments have checked out, she’s doing great science, and the best is yet to come! But if you’re wanting the MSL team to stand up at the AGU conference tomorrow and announce to the world, with tears of pride and joy streaming down their faces, that their nuclear-powered Barsoomian behemoth has found evidence of past life on Mars, well, you’re going to be disappointed. Nope.  Nothing to see here, move on, move on…

BUT…

That’s still pretty amazing, isn’t it? Curiosity is working GREAT, sending back hundreds of new images every day for us to drool over, and sending back enough data to keep planetary scientists busy and usefully occupied for many yearsto come. And she’s just got started on her adventure, don’t forget. Where she is now is really just the car park outside the martian mall. There’s a huge geologists’ toy store over there, in all those lovely layers up the slope of Mt Sharp, and soon she’ll turn towards the mountain and start driving towards it.

So, everyone, be not downhearted! This beast of a story ran away with itself a bit, and then took on a life of its own. It’s now safely back in its cage tho, and sleeping, so we can all catch our breaths and just enjoy the reality of the situation – which is that Curiosity is seeing spectacular views like these… click to enlarge, as usual…

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(LOVE that one, just look at all the different shapes, textures and colours of the rocks!!!)

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REALLY pleased with that one. I’m NOT claiming it’s accurate or realistic, cos frankly I’ve played about with it a lot, unil I made a view which just struck me as beautiful. So, take that image as you will – it’s my portrait of a tiny, tiny part of a crater on a world millions of miles away…

Just a rock…?

I have been positively drooling over the latest high resolution images being returned by Curiosity, each one has seemed more jaw-dropping than the last. But when I saw one particular rock it really leapt out at me, especially when I stitched three frames centred on it into a single mosaic (click to enlarge)…

When that image appeared on my computer it reminded me of an astropoem I wrote about martian rocks, way back in 2006… Bit of a slow news day on Barsoom, so I’ll share it with you here. I hope some of you enjoy it…

JUST ROCKS

                                                                                                                                                                       Oh god, she sighed, peering

over my shoulder like a pirate’s parrot,

don’t you ever get tired of staring

at those things? They all look the same

to me. They would, I said,

but only in my head; not her fault

her eyes aren’t tuned to the beauty

of Barsoom’s long twilights,

can’t see the love that goes into

each embroidered Navcam panorama

stitched with joy by image mages in their caves.

It’s just the same thing, day

after day, she mused, clearly bemused

and baffled by my eyes’ bright glint

at just a hint of layering in the stone

shown in all its grainy glory on the screen.

 

                                                                                                                                                                       

Oh no, oh no, it’s not, I said,

but only in my head; not her fault

her heart can’t catch or match the rhythm

of Time’s relentless march across

the gracious face of Mars,

that she doesn’t hear the silence of its sands.

They’re just rocks, she laughed,

but not unkindly, as another ochre outcrop

scrolled to life before our eyes,

drawn by dial-up download line by line;

Time’s diary entries etched on the flat

and fragile faces of its slanted standing stones.

Just rocks? Why can’t you see? I said,

but only in my head; not her fault

she wasn’t taught the tender purity

of a pebble on the beach, can’t trickle

shingle through her fingers without a smile.

Each rock, I cried, but only in my mind,

is a gleaming white, fresh page

in the dusty, strange Great Book of Martian History!

Each boulder a short story, its plot

another puzzle piece revealed;

its characters alive with tales of happier times

when rivers ran like giddy children

and oceans’ edges surged with surf

and frothed with foamy spray.

Look again and see, please! I begged

but she had already turned away.

 

                                                                                                                                                                  Let her go, leave her be, sang

my rocks from the screen;

not all look upon us and know that mere stone

is the key to all that Was, Is and Shall Ever Be.

This watery world of rain-soaked trees

and seas of life-soaked green is Home

to her; our dusty plains, not kissed by rain

for a million times a million years could never

make her sigh, or mist her eyes

with tears of wanting like yours do.

Some beauty is reserved by the Universe for only a few…

Which is true, of course;

though many layered, rocks never lie:

when you live a billion years there’s

too much time for false words to return

and haunt you.

But staring at them on the screen,

draped in dust, meteorite-pitted and pelted,

chiselled by chilled winds and scoured

by great glaciers and storms

how I wished she saw them as I do,

saw what I hope to live to see.

Somewhere on Ares is a rock

destined to be The First – the first plucked

from the rusted ground by a trembling gloved

hand and held aloft for all of watching Earth to see

on a billion HD TV screens. It will be seen

wrapped protectively in monkey fingers

made fat and white by Kevlar cocoons.

Billions of souls will leap as, in close-up,

it smiles serenely at its screaming fans

before being bagged and tagged and dropped into

a case marked simply “Sample 001.”

 

Elsewhere, another stands innocently on

the edge of  mighty Marineris, unaware

its destiny is to be the first stone thrown

over the canyon’s crumbling edge, its death dive

watched by grinning “Look at that!!!” explorers,

each agonising ricochet and shattering bounce

filmed in sweet slow-mo for Earth’s audience

to see in prime time, time-delayed glory.

As it cracks and smacks ‘gainst other rocks

on its descent will it shatter to shards, or fall

to the floor in a Roadrunner puff of dust?

 

In yet another corner of John Carter’s Mars

stands a stone destined for a life of interplanetary crime,

fated to be contraband, picked secretly

from the surface on some innocent EVA and,

while others’ attention is aimed elsewhere,

hidden hastily away, smuggled sunwards

in our sneaky astronaut’s bag or sock to be

revealed years later in the quiet of the family

home and gifted, with love, to a loved one.

Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Husband? Wife?

“This is for you, stolen from Mars. From Mars…”

 

One other red stone – on its own nothing special

or worthy of a second look  – will one day

be selected by some suddenly-inspired martian

and carved, in their spare time, into the first piece

of Native Martian Art. A rover, or rocket, a portrait

of the first man or woman to leave their boot-print

in the dust? Or a dog, or cat or bird, some other monster

plucked from the unlikely myths of misty Earth?

Right now that poor little rock has no idea its destiny

is to stare into a spotlight’s glare, in a far future

imprisoning Museum of Mars…

 

Other boulders’ future fates are far less glamorous.

Physical, more practical their ends.

Groaning with their weight, even in low-G,

heaving 21st century settlers will lift them

from their ancient resting places and carry them away

in a cruel Highlands Clearance of stone,

devastating once-packed rocky plains, leaving them

barren and bare, using their robbed riches to build

the first factories and farms.

Mere red rock igloos at first, thrown up in haste,

more waste than art, but a declaration of Man’s intent to stay.

Aram Chaos emptied next; its whale-sized blocks

of slumped and shattered sandstone carved

and cut into more manageable slabs,

then piled high at huge construction sites,

Giants’ Bricks prepared for play until one day

imposing Atreiades palaces of red and ochre stone

will roam the heights of Mars’ salmon sky!

Basking in the glow  of damson blue dusks and

marmalade dawns their turrets and towers will shine like gold,

all built of stones split, shaped, carved and quarried

from Utopia and Chryse’s plains…

 

…and each passing century will see such wonders

worshipped with more and more bewildered awe;

pale tourists and architecture addicts from

Old Earth, green Selene and all the settled icy moons

between the Sun and sweeping Pan will swoon

at their first sight of the martians’ Taj Mahal

and poppy-pillared Acropolis standing proud

upon the ruddy face of Mars. As twin moons skate

across the sky how many sighs will greet the Sun’s slow

fall behind tall turrets of Hesperian stone..?

Their building blocks are there, but unaware.

 

All rocks, I said, but only in my head.

I wish that you could see it.

Why can’t she see that some of those rocks dismissed

so lightly are likely to be loved by the first

giggling children on Mars, the Children Of Mars,

the First True Martians..?

Think about that. Picture laughing little aliens,

long-limbed and milk-skinned, kangaroo-bounding

from rover to rubble pile, slow-mo twirling in mid-

meagre air, landing in puffs of cinnamon dust,

scanning the ground for shards, chips and pieces

of pale flaking outcrops just the right weight

and size to sculpt into castles and Habs -

Or maybe she sees more than I..? Does the grim

gravel scream at her No! Not all we stones

have his fairytale future in store!

Does she see the Dark Truth: when Mars

finally is the Frontier then starry-eyed Settlers,

world-building warriors, women and men,

their beloved children and friends will weaken and

die in that dust, gasping for air, grasping

with terror-clawed hands at their lives as they slip away.

Gathered stones will cover their bodies;

mark their graves on martian Boot Hills.

 

I prefer to think of The Rock. The One that

will change everything in the history-shaking

moment it is found, lying on the ground

surrounded by myriad others smaller, larger,

heavier, lighter… It will look no different to

our tired astronaut’s eyes – just another stone

dark with dust and rough of edge – yet later,

in the lab, smacked and cracked open with hammer or

carefully incised by laser knife its treasure chest

heart will be revealed: jade-green bands or

spiralling fossil lines? Either: the stuff of Life..!

 

                                                                                                                                                                     So no, not just rocks, I said,

but only in my head.

 

One day she’ll know.

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2006

Always look on the bright side of (martian) life…

Right, I’m going to have a personal rant here. I’m giving you all fair warning, so if you’re only here for the pretty pictures, or the science, this might not be the post for you. But hey, it’s my blog, something’s bugging me, and I need to vent, so stay and read on, or click that little red box with a cross in it up at the top right there and go, it’s up to you. :-)

Ok.

There’s a lot of what’s now called “internet buzz” about the imminent announcement from the MSL team about whatever the hell it is that they have or haven’t found in the dust samples scooped up, eaten and analysed by by the rover. And while some space bloggers and writers have been going absolutely gaga over the story, insisting that NASA is about to announce the discovery of anything from traces of martian amino acids to the actual dried up, fossilised bodies of martian critters, quite rightly, serious science journalists have been covering the story rather more responsibly, urging caution, suggesting everyone calm down and just wait for the MSL team to tell us what they’ve found. Which I agree with, and support, totally.

But

It seems to me there’s now an undercurrent of hostility towards the story, and some people are now going too far the other way. Waaaay too far. It’s gone from sensibly urging caution and patience, to dismissing or even mocking the science results before they’re even announced to the world. This is wrong, very unfair, and very disrespectful to the MSL science team too. They can’t win, can they? If they had told everyone what they *thought* they *might* have found right away, without waiting for confirmation, they’d have been ripped to pieces by the media and the scientific community alike. They’re now being criticised for holding on to the story until they’re sure what they’ve got, and for revealing their findings at a major international science conference instead of to a few bored-looking journalists at a hastily-arranged JPL media conference. Give me a break. Give THEM a break.

So, what has MLS found? We don’t know. The smart money is going on the discovery of organics, which – despite what some grinches will tell you – will be an important step towards answering the question of life on Mars, past or present. But some commentators and bloggers are now treating the SAM discovery with derision even before it’s announced, and downplaying the significance of the discovery of organics, and sneering at the whole idea of life on Mars.

This isn’t a new thing. Anyone speaking or writing about “Life on Mars” now faces hostility from many sides. I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was the whole ALH84001 thing, when Clinton stood on the Whitehouse lawn and said what he said. Or maybe it was the methane thing, or the repeated “historic discovery” of water on Mars by one orbiter after another. But somewhere along the line it became fashionable and trendy to look down on martian astrobiology, and on those who are interested in it and passionate about it.

So, while many people are unmoved by the imminent science conference announcement, and some are actually looking forward to it being over so things can “get back to normal”, I’m counting the days, and will count the hours and minutes, until it’s made and we all know what’s going on because I find it incredibly exciting and inspiring.

Why? Simple. They’ve found Something. We don’t know what that Something is, but it’s Something, Something exciting enough to get scientist John Grotzinger excited enough to describe it, wisely or not, as “Earth-shaking”*. That was, perhaps, a poor choice of words, because it led to this blood-soaked cyber feeding frenzy of rumour and guesswork, but I personally think it’s fantastic that a serious, cautious scientist has been so excited by something he’s found, after many years of hard work, that he maybe let his emotions get the better of him for an unguarded moment and let out the beaker equivalent of a clenched fist “Look at that! Yes! get IN there!” Whatever he’s found it’s got him excited, and that means I”m excited too.

* (UPDATE: since writing this post it’s become clear – and has been pointed out to me by several people too – that John never actually used the term “Earth-shaking, it was the NPR journalist who said that. I’m happy to make that correction here, and want to acknowledge my own mistake in this rather than just change the post. )

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting here thinking “They’ve found life on Mars! Woo hoo!!!” I know that they haven’t, because 1) MSL isn’t designed to actually do that, and 2) such a discovery could not, in this modern age, be kept secret, it just couldn’t. Word would get out. And I know that this “discovery” isn’t going to change the world, or herald a new scientific age, but it’s still an amazing thing, and we should be celebrating it more, not shrugging our shoulders with a grumpy “huh”.

Think about it, just take a moment to backtrack and think about it. We designed and built a nuclear powered rover, hurled it away from Earth on the top of what was basically a very long bomb, landed it safely on a hostile alien world using untried technology, drove it away from its landing site to an area of rich geology mapped by *another* amazing spacecraft orbiting that alien world, made it scoop up and eat martian dust, and then an unbelievably complicated and advanced laboratory cocooned inside the rover found something exciting in that dust. When the hell did we start taking that for granted? When the hell did we start looking down on, or ridiculing, that? I can’t get my head around it.

Ok, so MSL hasn’t found the dried up husks of martian critters in its dusty snack, and it hasn’t coughed up the gritty remains of the fossilis of Barsoomian bugs, but if it’s detected organics of any kind in that soil sample, simple or complicated, native or incomers from meteorites, after we’ve been hunting for them for all this time, after Viking’s infamously inconclusive results, after the tragic loss of Beagle 2, that’s incredible, an astounding achievement, and another piece in the puzzle of the existence of life on Mars.

Yes, I said it – Life on Mars. Oops, I said it again, see? I hope that didn’t offend anyone. I know that “life” has somehow become a four letter word to some scientists and writers, an obscenity almost, and even a casual mention of it in an article or blog post about Mars is about as welcome  as dog dirt on a wedding dress, but I just wish people would be honest about it. Come on! For all the noble words about ‘advancing science’ and ‘adding to Mankind’s knowledge’, we’re not spending all this money going to Mars to “ooh!” and “aah!” over the rusty red rocks and the windblown dirt’; we’re not investing all this time on collecting enough  data to allow us to accurately model the weather systems; the scientists aren’t dedicating their careers and their lives to finding out how cold it is after sunset. No. It’s all, all of it, being done to see if there is life on Mars now, or ever was life there, and to help us plan for taking life there in the future – us. People.

So yes, I’m looking forward to The Announcement, whatever it is, because it’s new science, from Mars, which is incredible in itself, but even more incredible when you consider the bigger picture, the higher goal – the search for extraterrestrial life. Whatever John Grotzinger tells us when he takes the stage on Dec 4th, I’ll celebrate, because he and his team deserve to have their work celebrated, and because we’ll be a little closer – maybe just a very little closer, maybe just a single step closer – to the day when we learn if Mars had, or still has, life.

You see, I want to know, I NEED to know, if there’s life Out There. It’s one of my passions, one of my personal beliefs, and has been ever since I was knee high to R2D2. The possibility of extraterrestrial life fascinates, intrigues and inflames me, in my core. That might sound sappy, or naive, but that’s just the way it is. It’s part of me. I’m 47 now (WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?), and my adult passion for space exploration and astronomy manifests itself in computers, magazines, telescopes and cameras. I blog about it. I spend hours making pictures from raw images sent back by Opportunity and Curiosity. I download .pdf  files of scientific papers and books and read them on my phone in my breaks. I give talks to schoolkids and community groups, standing at the front of modern classrooms or damp church halls, ‘spreading the word’ about space. It’s all distressingly grown up.

But

Inside I’m still the same space mad kid who fell in love with the universe before he’d even learned how to ride a bike. I’m still the same 7 year old who sneaked back into school in breaktimes to hide in the library, reading the astronomy sections of the science books while everyone else ran around the playground outside, shouting and screaming. In *here* I’m still the same kid who was given a telescope for Christmas by his ever tolerant and supportive mum, and who felt his heart almost jump out of his chest when he looked at Mars through it for the first time, seeing its tiny, Spangle-orange disc shimmering in the eyepiece on a frosty December night, wondering if that dark, almost-not-there shark tooth shape on the disc was Syrtis Major, and if the white dot at the top of the disc actually was its polar cap. I’m still the same teenager who sat glued to the TV watching “COSMOS”, and feeling something shift inside me, Carl Sagan’s vision and poetry triggering an emotional earthquake inside of me which I’ve never recovered from, and hope I never do.

So, ok, no life on Mars. Fine. But it’s Something, Something New, so let’s try to drop the cynicism and embrace the moment, shall we? Because this is an amazing time to be alive, and we should enjoy every minute of it.