Mars Alive!

If I had a hundred lives and the corresponding years, I’d spend a chunk on space travel. Can you imagine the disorienting feeling of stepping foot on another planet? I can’t but I would like to.

Mars is one of the planets on that list. Well, there aren’t that many viable options right now. Venus is a hot mess, Saturn and Jupiter are too gassy, and who would ever want to go to a place named Uranus? Mars is the best bet of a bad lot. But it is dry and barren. As it turns out, it might not always have been the case for the Red Planet.

Mars ocean

Those brilliant scientists at NASA have determined that Mars once had an ocean — a deep ocean — that covered nearly half the planet. This means it was warm enough for life (meaning us), and it may have actually been home to life.

I’m not one who thinks that Earth alone is the be-all and end-all of life. I do believe that life is special and rare, though. Could this mean that our next door neighbor was teeming with life?

Possibly. If the NASA scientists are right, then there was liquid water—a prerequisite for life—and time enough for life to develop. What that life on Mars would have looked like is anyone’s guess.

Eternal life, here on Earth

Those wacky scientists are at it again. And if they have their way, we’ll live a very, very long time.

The latest? Scientists have perfected a technique where they lengthen the telomeres of cells’ chromosomes. The length of telomeres, which protect cells from damage, corresponds with the health of cells. The longer the telomeres, the healthier the cell. By artificially lengthening the telomeres, they’ve turned back the clock on these cells. OR, to put it another way, they replenished the cells’ bank accounts.

Before anyone books that vacation a hundred years out, this has only been done in the lab, on cells. The scientists believe that this technique may someday help treat diseases of aging such as heart disease. So, it seems that everlasting life would be a piecemeal thing — treat each condition as it comes up.

But there’s always the dark side. If we lived forever, or close to it, where would we all fit? We’d definitely have to colonize Mars, and Venus too. And what if it goes wrong? What if the procedure turns us into a race of zombies, as in Resident Evil? Now that would make life interesting.

Rain_zombie2

Are ancient aliens ignoring us?

We’re obsessed with life beyond Earth.

For a while, we thought we might find it close to home. Venus turned out to be a hellish bust, and Mars is turning up nothing but red rocks. SETI has been beaming a hello for decades, but no one has greeted our call. So, unless you believe that Roswell is indeed the site of an alien vacation community, we’ve come up with nothing.

SETI

That hasn’t stopped us from making it a focal point of sci-fi and pop culture, from HG Wells’ vicious War of the star trekWorlds to the community of agreeable, and sometimes sexy, aliens embodied in the Star Trek series and movies.

And, the research to identify life supporting planets is going full steam, with hundred potential candidates identified to date. Now, we may be able to expand our time frame as well.

First, the title of this io9.com article — Freakishly Old System of Planets Hint at Ancient Alien Civilizations — is misleading. Nowhere does the writer, or the research, state that we’ve found any kind of proof (or even a hint) of alien life.

But what we’ve discovered—that rocky planet systems are billions of years older than we first thought—is intriguing in its implication. And what is this implication? That life, and advanced civilizations, have had several billions of years in which to develop.

Our universe is considered to be about 13.8 billion years old, and according to the article, scientists have detected a planet system that is about 11.2 billion years old. Before this, scientists didn’t believe that rocky planets capable of sustaining life could have formed that early in our universe’s life span. Now they know different.

But this leads to the inevitable question: if there are so many planets that could potentially support life, and if these planets have existed for at least 11 billion years, then why isn’t our universe teeming with life? Surely there would be ONE advanced civilization that would have colonized the stars. Was there NEVER a planet capable of supporting life? Or, did they ALL fail to advance to the point we have?

Revelation_Space_cover_(Amazon)One of my favorite sci-fi writers, Alastair Reynolds, explored this very topic in his book Revelation Space. His world view was bleak: advanced civilizations destroyed each other, leaving behind a higher power that would snuff out advanced civilizations whenever they reached the point of breaking their planetary bounds.

If that’s true, then we’re in danger.

Or, maybe there are tons of aliens out there, and they don’t find us interesting enough to return our calls.

Why not Venus?

It’s been described as Earth’s twin, our sister planet, roughly the same size and composition as the home world we all know and love.

Venus Earth
But it’s the hellish parts of Venus that make it our evil twin:

–Its atmospheric pressure is nearly 100 times greater than on Earth. If you set foot on Venus you would be crushed.

–It is damn hot: over up to 900 degrees. At best, you would bake.

–Its atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, with clouds that rain sulphuric acid. Not only would you be unable to breathe, but the acid would melt your body.

Venus
So what’s good about this hell planet? What possible use could we have for it?

It turns out that Venus is not as useless as it may seem, at least not according to NASA.

If we are ever to become serious about off-world colonies, Venus might be a good place to start. But how could we ever live on such an inhospitable world? We couldn’t. Instead, we could float just above its poisonous atmosphere.

This is what some NASA scientists are planning: floating cities. These giant blimp-like structures would be tethered about 30 miles above Venus’s surface. At this level, the atmospheric pressure is roughly similar to that of Earth, and the temperature, while still an inhumanly 160 degrees, would be suitable for these structures. The crafts would be solar powered as well.

Venus floating cities
But if Venus is so bad, what’s the benefit?

It allows us to get our feet wet in terms of establishing colonies in space, and we could avoid problems such as extreme temperatures or adverse gravitational conditions (too little gravity and our bodies would break down faster than we would like).

I have never considered Venus as a potential off-world site, and the more I think about it, the better it sounds. Of course it would not be easy. There are many logistical problems, not to mention the cost involved.

At the very least, these NASA dreams can provide another cool setting for sci-fi.