Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is there life on Mars?

Somewhat disappointing news reaches us from the planet Mars, where NASA’s Curiosity Rover, having pootled around on the surface for the last year or so, taking samples and generally being curious, has reported back that it can’t find any methane.

Disappointing because it means that the chances of finding life on the Red Planet are vanishingly slim.

Red planet: Mars, yesterday
“It’s not a good sign,” Canadian astrobiologist Lyle Whyte told ABC News. “We have a problem.”

Hang on...

The last time anyone said that in a space-related context was when Apollo 13 blew a gasket and nearly blasted Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton into icy oblivion.

This sounds serious.

Meanwhile, even more disappointing news comes in from another corner of space. (Can space have corners? Ask your father.) Cosmologists say they are  confident that the earth will end in 1.75 billion years, when it finally gets swallowed up by the ever-aging, and ever-expanding, sun.

That’s if us uppity humans haven’t already blown up our home planet, or melted it, or swamped it with plastic pop bottles. And even if we haven’t, we’ll probably have evolved into telekinetic gasesous entities, and will be even less bothered than we appear to be now.

Every cloud, though, has a silver lining.

A third report, this time in  the New Scientist, is headlined “Death by Higgs rids cosmos of space brain threat.” If you understand that then you’re – well, the sort of person who understands headlines in the New Scientist.

But it can only be good news.

Methane delivery system
And the stuff about no methane on Mars is actually quite good news too, when you start to think about it. What makes methane? Cows. And if there’s no methane on Mars, then there are no cows either. And if there are no cows, then there won’t be any of those ghastly agricultural pongs that have been wafting across Bath for the last two weeks.

So when the sun starts expanding and the smell gets bad, we’ll know what to do. We’ll ride a trail of Higgs Bosons to the fourth rock from the Sun, settle down in odour-free bliss, and live out our days singing David Bowie songs. Sounds like a plan.

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