Mars was once no more than just another bright, peripatetic point of light in the sky. But it came into its own with the invention of the telescope. Unlike other planets, Mars could be seen to have obvious topography – light and dark areas that, while of uncertain origin, bespoke a world that might be very similar to our own.
By the end of the 19th century, both astronomers and science-fiction writers had established the Red Planet as the most likely abode of life in our solar system.
This week, NASA’s announcement regarding the discovery of liquid water just below the rusty, dusty surface of Mars, as well as the debut of Andy Weir’s novel and film The Martian, are once again emphasizing how special this nearby planet is.
For the next week, we’ll be offering you a potpourri of short essays and audio clips from the SETI Institute, where Mars research is one of our hottest research topics. Make sure you check back here each day for insight and commentary on what continues to be everyone’s favorite extraterrestrial world.
The SETI Institute needs your help
This is an incredibly exciting time for the SETI Institute. The number of verified planets outside of our solar systems grows rapidly, and includes several that may have liquid water on their surfaces. At the same time, we are learning that life can survive in amazing places, even in lakes sealed beneath the Antarctic ice. These and other recent developments virtually assure the existence, and ultimate verification, of life beyond Earth. Recently NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan agreed, predicting "I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years." The SETI Institute is at the forefront of many of these discoveries. As the only organization that addresses the full range of disciplines related to understanding and explaining the origin and nature of life in the universe, we search for answers to critical questions such as:
- How did life begin on Earth?
- Where/when/how did it overcome bottlenecks?
- Does it exist elsewhere?
- Are there other technological life forms?
- Can we survive our own technological adolescence?
- Is there a long future for life on Earth?
The answers to these and related questions are critical for informing some of the most important decisions mankind will make in the next 50 years.
Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult for basic research institutions like our Institute to rely on government funding in the United States. Increasingly, we are dependent on visionaries such as you to support our programs. When you invest in the SETI Institute, you join leaders such as Dave Packard, Paul Allen, Bill Hewlett, Gordon Moore, and Franklin Antonio, all of whom have been strong supporters. The Institute is approaching a critical point where we may need to curtail some of our programs, so we need your support now!
After nine years en route, the New Horizons spacecraft is nearing Pluto for the July 14 flyby. We have many ideas to enhance our public and student engagement based on the expertise of our scientists who are participating in this mission, but we lack the funding to execute on them.
The Institute’s NASA Astrobiology Team uses innovative, autonomous rovers in the high lakes of the Andes to simulate landers that will float in Titan’s ethane lakes. This team strives to better understand planetary responses to rapid climate change. We have multiple opportunities for independent studies by postdoctoral fellows using these data, but we must find funds to support them.
The Allen Telescope Array is being upgraded with more sensitive radio receivers, capable at working at even higher frequencies, to improve the search for other technological civilizations. This improved sensitivity is like building more telescopes, making the search even more effective. But we must urgently find funding to support our scientists to make use of the array.
These opportunities are all here today, but we need your help to seize them. You can be a part of discovering life beyond Earth! Please go to https://www.teamseti.org to make your tax-deductible donation now!
Thanks for your help!
President and CEO