Red Planet = Dead Planet

Mars, as pictured by the Hubble Space Telescope
Courtesy of NASA
We've known it for years, but NASA is now beginning the learn the reasons why. (Warning! Geek Alert. I'm getting my geek on here.) Mars is dead, and it's dead for some very good reasons. Yes, there is water there. Apparently NASA is finding out that water is abundant throughout the solar system, and probably the universe. But water alone is not good enough to support life. Temperatures on Mars are cold - damn cold! -- and that's a big part of the problem. The atmosphere is thin too, and that's another part. However, the real problem Mars has, which is causing a lot of these other problems, is the lack of a magnetic field. You see, Earth has a magnetic force field that completely surrounds it. It is believed that this force field is caused not only by the rotation of our planet's inner core, but also the orbit of the moon, which acts as a gravitational stirring spoon on Earth's subsurface magma. These two things working together keep Earth's magnetic field youthful and strong. This is what blocks out both cosmic and solar radiation, giving us a wonderful spectacle of northern and southern lights. However, that magnetic force field does a lot for us. It prevents cosmic and solar radiation from killing us. Furthermore, it prevents our atmosphere from being degraded and evaporating into space. This helps to keep our temperatures within reason, and all of this together makes Earth a very hospital planet for life. Mars, so it would appear, has a lot of things going for it, except for that magnetic force field, and without it, the planet goes dead. Not even microbes can survive there, because if the extreme temperatures don't kill them, the cosmic and solar radiation most certainly will.

So, that being said, is there any chance of terraforming Mars (making Mars more like Earth)? The short answer is NO. In order to make Mars a habitable world, we would have to give it a magnetic force field, and there is no technology that can do that for an entire planet. The red planet is a dead planet, and it will stay dead, indefinitely. NASA is now looking for signs of life elsewhere, namely on Jupiter and Saturn's moons. This however, is a long shot, and even more unlikely than life on Mars. Many scientists have resigned themselves to the fact that aside from Earth, there is no possibility of life within our solar system, which is why the search has shifted in recent years to exoplanets (planets around other stars). NASA has even gone so far as to predict they will find signs of life on these exoplanets within 20 years. This is a bold prediction, and an unwarranted one. Even if they develop instruments sensitive enough to determine if water exists on such worlds, that doesn't mean life exists there. Water exists on Mars, and the moon, but there is no life. I think such predictions are designed to garner funding. I don't think it's wrong to look, but I do think it's futile to get our hopes up. Could there be life out there somewhere? Sure! Why not? Is it intelligent life like us? Probably not. If there is life in this universe, outside of Earth, I'm sure it's filled with plants and animals. People however, well, that's an entirely different matter.

Putting all religious explanations aside, just for a moment, lets look at what science alone has told us so far, just so we can begin to appreciate our uniqueness in the universe.

According to scientific theory, the Earth has been around for billions of years, and during that time, life has existed here for almost as long. However, in each epoch of Earth's history, it has existed in different forms. In a previous epoch, such as during the age of the dinosaurs for example, the Earth was radically different than it is today. It is theorised that Earth's atmosphere was much thicker, and the climate was much warmer. That all changed with a massive asteroid impact, which killed off the dinosaurs, shed a portion of the Earth's atmosphere, and made room for the rise of mammals. It is within that age of mammals that mankind arose. Okay, regardless if you believe any of this stuff or not, think about what science is telling us here. It's saying that the evolution of human beings took place under very specific and unique conditions. In order for similar intelligent life to exist elsewhere, one would expect similar conditions have taken place. One would have to see the rise of reptiles, followed by massive extinction, then the rise of dinosaurs, followed by massive extinction, and then finally the rise of mammals. Why mammals you say? Because looking at life on Earth. mammals are the only type of animals that have the capacity to develop higher brain function. Reptiles and birds (including dinosaurs) are limited in their brain capacity. Mammals are smart critters, much smarter than reptiles and birds, in that they have a higher brain function. If you're looking for animals that can think and reason, like human beings, you're going to need mammals. Yet, mammals developed on Earth under very specific conditions, according to science, that required the massive extinction of other types of animals first. Do you see what I'm getting at here? Science is telling us, and has been telling us for decades, that intelligent life is extremely rare, even here on Earth. Could it exist elsewhere in the universe? I suppose anything is possible, but in all likelihood, if life exists anywhere else at all, it is most likely plant and animal life. The odds of there being intelligent life like us, are extremely unlikely.

The lesson of science, real science, is that life itself is rare. Of the three most likely habitable planets in our solar system (Venus, Earth and Mars), only one (Earth) actually supports life. Even that is by a fluke, because of our unusually large moon that acts as a gravitational stirring spoon on our planet's magma core, keeping the planet's magnetic force field young and healthy for billions of years. Neither Venus nor Mars have these conditions, so their magnetic fields are virtually non-existent. This makes the development of life (all life) impossible on these worlds. The solar and cosmic radiation would kill the first cell before it even developed. Meanwhile on earth, where our robust magnetic force field keeps most harmful radiation away from the surface, life has developed abundantly. Yet the history of life here on Earth confirms that we (human beings) are unique, even for this planet. The rise of mammals was not a natural event. It was coaxed by specific conditions, that brought about the development of higher brain function to evade dinosaur predators. Then the dinosaurs were wiped out, along with a percentage of the earth's atmosphere, clearing the way for another food chain wherein mammals could rise to the top. This could not happen if the atmosphere had remained thick, which would have given reptiles and dinosaurs an advantage again. In order for mammals to rise, the earth had to have thinner air and a cooler climate. That's exactly what happened, and after the rise of mammals, came the appearance of man. None of this is natural folks. Even when we go by the witness of cold, hard, scientific theory, what we see is that our species is a unique brand, brought about by very unique and specific conditions.  Animal and plant life, on other words, is not too far fetched. Theoretically, all you need are the right temperatures and a good, strong, magnetic field. That is rare, even in our solar system, but it is remotely possible under the right conditions. However, coming up with an animal that has higher brain function, such as the ability to reason, is an extremely rare event, that even this planet has only seen once in its four and a half billion year history. Science itself is telling us that intelligent life is an extremely rare thing, if not totally unique to Earth alone. Popular culture, fuelled by science fiction, wants to believe that intelligent life is abundant in the universe. Space agencies play on this popular mythology for funding, promising to find signs of life elsewhere, if only governments will just cough up a few billion more dollars. As I said, there is nothing wrong with looking. What is unreasonable however, is getting our hopes up for a discovery that is extremely unlikely to ever happen.



Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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