A Martian's view of Mars
Remarkable new images taken by Nasa rover vehicles on the surface of the Red Planet show a rocky, barren desert that looks surprisingly like home
Mars has inspired the human imagination for thousands of years. The Greeks and Romans identified the Red Planet with the god of war, and the ancient Babylonians before them named it after Nergal, the fiery god of destruction and the underworld. They saw something sinister and malevolent in the erratically moving point of reddish light that refused to obey the astronomical rules of the night sky with its rigidly-ordered suite of stars.
More recently, fiction writers have taken up the plot, beginning with the 1898 classic The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, with its army of extraterrestrial invaders from Mars, to The Martian Chronicles of Ray Bradbury and the other, less notable, sci-fi romps of the 1950s. Mars, to them, was a world of intelligent lifeforms.
But these newly released images, originally published in National Geographic and shown here for the first time, describe another picture of Mars. They show how eerily similar its landscape can be to that of Earth. One image of the jagged rim of Victoria Crater for instance could be any rocky outcrop in the deserts of South Africa or the American south-west – or even a desolate corner of the Peak District.
The image, taken by Nasa's rover Opportunity, shows just one of many rocky promontories that stick out from the rim of this half-mile-wide crater formed many millions of years ago from the high-energy impact of a massive object from space.
A second image shows the tracks of Opportunity as it rolls away from a crater at the stately pace of less than two feet a minute – a path plotted by the rover itself largely without the help of human controllers on Earth.
Like its sister rover Spirit, Opportunity has operated far longer than its scheduled run of 90 days. They have both now survived for nearly 60 months, providing invaluable insight into the planet's landscape and geology. Along with the two rovers, there is also a lander and three orbiting satellites surveying Mars. Never in history has there been so much scientific data and visual information coming back to Earth from our nearest planetary neighbour.
Scientists are now convinced that there are large volumes of water on Mars, in the form of sub-surface ice. They believe that the planet was once hospitable to life, with an atmosphere and temperatures conducive to liquid water. One day, future surveys of Mars – whether by robot or human explorers – may finally detect signs that life did exist on the Red Planet.
Read the National Geographic article at: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/12/planet-mars/updike-text?pid=independent_mars
Malaysia Airlines plane crash exposes alarming flaw in airline security: over one billion flights made last year without stolen-passport check
International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
Teacher shows sex tape featuring herself to pupils during class by mistake
Swarm of killer bees sting woman 1,000 times
Dead woman's body found sitting in a car after six years after direct debits ran $54,000 bank account dry
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
- 1 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 2 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 3 Singapore sting: Sky-high prices are pushing locals to the edge of affordability
- 4 Russia has made 'big miscalculation' over Ukraine warns Hague
- 5 Swarm of killer bees sting woman 1,000 times
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: A small but growing chain of boutique hot...
£12000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: The company works with Tier 1 FTSE 100 Ba...
£45 - 60k Per Annum: Charter Selection: Highly profitable leisure brand, marke...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residenti...