The Red Planet is in the news again. It's been 32 years since Mariner 4 was there and 21 years since the Viking Orbiter/Lander program. Happily, NASA Path-finder's bouncy landing on the 4th of July put us back in the Mars business after far too many years of no new data.
Planet Number Four of our solar system most resembles the earth, but is half our size and 50% farther away from the sun than we are. A Martian day is but 38 minutes longer than a day on earth, and the axial tilt just 1.7 degrees greater.
Mars apparently had an atmosphere at one time (oxidizing the surface soils and rocks red)-but at present the atmospheric pressure is almost nil (7 millibars compared to earth's 1000). Thus the daily temperature range runs from -220 to +170 F. The polar "ice" caps are dusty frozen carbon dioxide. There are occasional strong winds and great dust storms, and Mars has no magnetic field to speak of.
The Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiparelli (1835-1910) thought he saw seasonally changing canals on Mars-so alien life on Mars was a major theme of science fiction writers from well before the turn of our century until now.
Mars was, of course, named for the Roman God of war, son of Jupiter and Juno (Mars is the Greek god Ares). The name Mars seems to have been derived from MaRduK, chief god of Nimrod's Babylonian pantheon.
Cairo, Egypt ("Al Kahira"; i.e., Mars) was founded on August 5, 969 A.D. by conquering Fatimid armies. Advice from local astrologers to delay the construction was apparently overlooked.1 The soothsayers were fearful that the ascendant planet Mars and certain other omens meant the Turks would soon conquer the city. The intended name of the city until the astrologers' dire warning had been Al Mansuriya ("the victorious"). Mars and Egypt seem to be strangely linked from ancient times, probably from Pharaonic times in ancient Egyptian astrology and mythology.
When strange pyramidal mountains, a great stone face, and other anomalous features were photographed on Mars in 1976, Schiparelli's canals were suddenly out of fashion, however the possibilities of a now-destroyed civilization on Mars became the topic of even more serious scientific study.
Mars has some incredible features. Most all the cratering is found on the far side, and the side of the planet opposite all the craters bulges outward as if struck by an enormous blow from colliding asteroids.2 Mars' tiny, irregular, moons, Demos (~8 miles diameter) and Phobos (~14 miles), may in fact be captured asteroids. In the May issue of Personal Update we discussed the possibility that a planet between Mars and Jupiter blew up, and if this happened Mars would probably have caught the worst of the onslaught of asteroid and planet fragments. These could have included lots of ice and watery comets. Perhaps the flash floods on Mars came during that terrible cosmic bombardment.
Astronomer Tom Van Flandern3 thinks the asteroid bombardment blew away the atmosphere and flipped Mars on its axis. If so, the "Face" on Mars would have been near the old equator.
There is presently no surface water on Mars - but probably much underground water in the form of permafrost. Gigantic water-carved canyons bear witness of enormous floods in the past.
Surface features on Mars are amazing: the Valles Marineris canyon system is over 2486 miles long and up to 5 miles deep, making our Grand Canyon seem like a mere scratch on a level earth. Three Tharsis shield volcanoes rise 6 to 11 miles above the surrounding plateau, attaining elevations of 11 to 16 miles high. Olympus Mons, the biggest mountain on Mars, rises 15 miles high above the surrounding plain-its base is a mere 300 miles across! Flat basins suggest former oceans. In the region known as Cydonia are found the strangest features of all: the "Face," the "Fort," the "City" and several huge pyramidal mountains.4 It is not hard to imagine that these are the remnants of a settlement on the shores of an ancient Martian ocean.
In September of this year, if all goes well, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, now in transit,5 should be orbiting Mars. While NASA continues to ignore the strong scientific interest in the Face on Mars, hopefully new imagery from Surveyor this fall will tell us more. Tom Van Flandern says:
The unusual landforms at Cydonia on Mars are either natural features or they are artificial constructs of intelligent beings. A number of tests of artificiality have been proposed since the area was discovered. For example, it has been noted that the "Face" is a three-dimensional face, not merely a profile or a drawing on a flat surface. As such, it still looks like a face from every angle....
The "Face" on Mars has now passed each test of artificiality yet proposed. These tests include a three dimensional structure, a lack of fractal patterns in the image, an apparent bilateral symmetry, being built on the Martian equator, being built with a culturally significant orientation, and serving an apparent culturally significant purpose.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the case for artificiality is now compelling, for many will still find that conclusion less likely than all these "coincidences" put together. Yet the balance of the evidence, considered objectively, now weighs in favor of artificiality over a natural origin of the Cydonian landforms.
It is with some relief that the author hastens to point out that Mars Global Surveyor is now en route to the red planet for a mapping mission, with cameras able to take high resolution pictures of such potential quality that the truth of the hypothesis should be made considerably clearer to all, perhaps as soon as the end of 1997.
If the spacecraft reveals that the Cydonia landforms are naturally occurring objects, the author is ready to stand convicted of frightfully bad judgment on this matter. By implication, his other exceptions to mainstream astronomy, such as the exploded planet hypothesis, may be regarded in the same light-especially since the exploding was directly responsible for this new evidence and for suggesting this line of reasoning.
However, in view of the preceding considerations, all might be wise to prepare for the alternative - the possibility of a cultural shock unrivaled by any other in our generation.
Lately, reputable scientists have shown that the origin of life on earth by mere time plus chance is not plausible.6 Panspermia-the theory that earth was seeded with life from outer space-is now seriously discussed in many circles. For many scientists, the universe is indeed so vast that surely "we are not alone." Was there once life on Mars? Will organic molecules be found there beneath the baked surface?
On the subject of life on other planets the Bible is strangely silent. The creation account of Genesis is written from the point of view of an observer who is standing on the earth. In Jewish tradition, the rabbis said the Lord stood on the Foundation Stone when He created things. This stone would later be part of Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem where the temples were built!
Geocentricity is still today an interesting theory7 but neither well-known nor very popular. There is no longer any great aesthetic beauty in attempting to place the earth at the center of the physical universe. But Earth is still unique-it is the moral center of all that God has done in the universe. It was on this planet that God became a man, being born of a virgin into our race. It was on a cross near the present Damascus Gate on Mt. Moriah that Jesus the Son of God died for the sins of the world.
Furthermore, it is to the Planet Earth that Jesus will return to rule forever. After His parting words to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, "as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'" (Acts 1:9-11)
The Bible speaks of Jesus as the Second or Last of two men named Adam. The first Adam, made in the very image and likeness of God, lost his rightful place as governor and steward over the original creation. Adam's hapless race, including all of us, were doomed by sin to death and sorrow. The very universe itself was ruined and damaged by evil among the angels. But by Christ's cosmic sacrifice, all things can be and will be made new. One day there will be "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." (2 Pet 3:13).
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