Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go, by David A. Weintraub

Posted on Aug 28, 2020 in Book reviews | 0 comments

Life on Mars is not just a book about Mars; it is a chronicle of humankind’s obsession with the Red Planet, the evolution of ‘Mars-mania’, our hopes for life beyond Earth, and a cautionary warning about the ethical implications of Mars exploration.

In this book, Weintraub narrates the story of our love affair with Mars from the moment we set our eyes on it. He guides us through the fascination and obsession of the many scientists who were convinced of the existence of life on Mars, and the lengths they went to prove to the world what they believed was true. He tells us of their disappointments, and explains how humans had to keep lowering their expectations of our planetary neighbour, as we discovered that the advanced civilisations, canals, algae and lichens observed by scientists, were nothing but the product of obsession, imagination and hope. Yet, hope persists.

We continue to look for life on Mars, but we do it with a healthy scepticism. The fact that Mars was once habitable does not mean that life existed there, but the possibility is enough to keep us looking for it, as evidenced by the missions dedicated to finding it. As Weintraub explains, the answer to this question is important for a number of reasons, and its implications profound, whether we find life (past or present) on Mars or not. With plans to send humans to Mars in the near future, we have a responsibility to consider the possibility of Martian life, and to think carefully about what our exploration and colonisation of this planet would mean for such life, should it exist.

Well-written without using jargon, this is a must read for any Mars enthusiast, as well as a great educational book that shows how humanity’s fixation with life on the Red Planet has contributed to the refinement of planetary science, and of how it is done and communicated.

Reviewed by: Marina Barcenilla, Astrobiology PhD Student, University of Westminster, London.

This review was originally published in The Observatory, February 2019 edition.

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