Mars Needs Friends.

mars05312016Last night I stepped outside and looked to the southeast and could see Mars, a bright orange dot having high in the sky. I took a picture with my SkyView app and then pulled out my telescope to take a quick look at Mars itself. A few days earlier I saw an ad on Facebook that said “See Mars without a telescope!” and there are several posts that say the same thing.

What bonehead thought being able to see Mars without a telescope was a big deal? If Mars is above the horizon at night you can always see it without a telescope. It’s our second-nearest planetary neighbor. Venus is actually a little bit closer which may be why The Three Stooges went there first before they tackled Mars, but that’s another story.

And then I wondered why I felt so hostile to the people who were so excited they’d be able to see Mars with their own eyes. A few days ago after being in opposition Mars made its closest approach to Earth in more than a decade which explains why it’s unusually bright right now. So that is exciting. And I felt guilty for being annoyed because, well, sometimes I think we project the worst of ourselves onto Mars. In Greek and Roman mythology Mars or Ares was not really a good guy. There’s a reason the moons of Mars are named Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Terror). He was the god of war, after all, and maybe it says something about us that he occupied a higher place in the pantheon than the god of peace. Do you know either the Greek or Roman god of peace? Give yourself five bonus points if you don’t have to go to Google. And ten bonus points if you do because you’re interested in learning.

Twentieth Century entertainment was bookended, sort of, by H.G. Wells’s  War Of The Worlds and Mars Attacks! and hundreds, maybe even thousands, of movies about Martian invaders, and even more TV shows, books, and stories in between. Little Green Men From Mars is one of science fiction’s most recognized clichés, and they’re usually hostile.

Source: Doctor Who TV

And not always so little.

In the middle there we also had Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land about an Earth child raised by Martians who then brings peace and love to our planet by having sex with everybody and his lesser-known young adult novel Red Planet. Both characterized the Martians as gentler, kinder, almost primitive folk and very distinctively alien. Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles took a more nuanced approach with Martians responding the way we might to potentially hostile alien invaders before being wiped out by human diseases. It was an eerie allegory that would be revisited decades later by Stephen Hawking when he said, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Maybe that’s why most portrayals of Martians do make them hostile. We’re projecting the worst of ourselves onto our planetary neighbor. And it seems to me like we’ve thrown more at Mars than it’s thrown at us. Sure, it’s sent a few meteors our way, including one that caused some consternation, but we’ve sent numerous probes there. What has Mars done to deserve any of that? Maybe it’s a sign of real progress that Andy Weir’s The Martian and the film version are so popular. Maybe part of the appeal was that the story took Mars as it is and how it could potentially bring out the best in us rather than the worst.

All I am saying is give Mars a chance.

mars

14 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    I gave this post a chance, Chris, and — as usual — I’m so glad I did. A kashmillion bonus points for you, my friend.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m glad you chose to see what was down this particular road. And I have no idea how many a kashmillion is but I’ll take it.

      Reply
  2. mydangblog

    Cool new trilogy featuring Mars: Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I highly recommend all three books in the series–a fantastic read.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And this is a fantastic reminder of why it’s great to work in a library. I checked and the first two books–Red Rising and Golden Son are on the shelves just waiting to be read. If the third book isn’t on its way soon I’ll just have to make sure it’s added to the collection.

      Reply
  3. Laura - CaledonAcres

    I saw those FB posts too and I thought the same “what’s the big deal..” but I will go bak now and really look for Mars and give it a chance 😉

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      While you’re giving Mars a chance you only need look a little closer to the horizon to give Saturn a chance too. It’s a little harder to spot. It’s many times bigger than Mars but also many times farther away. And a telescope is needed to see its rings.

      Reply
  4. Jay

    I hope Mars pens you a really heart-felt thank you note for championing it so well.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I hope when the Martians invade they’ll read this and treat me kindly.

      Reply
  5. halfa1000miles

    Singing:

    Don’t know much about history,
    Don’t know no astronomyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

    But you know what I do know? You said you felt hostility toward people who were excited they could see Mars. You know what makes me ridiculously hostile? The fact the the guy who narrates my favorite podcast (99% Invisible) is named Roman Mars. Why does that piss me off? It’s a dumb name, right? It’s totally made up, right? If your parents named you that, you would have changed it, right? It makes me mad. And it has very little to do with this post. I JUST DON’T LIKE IT, HA!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I can see why that annoys you. Let’s face it: “Roman” is a terrible first name. It should be a last name. Then his first name can be something like “Still” and then when he retires he can change it to “Dun”.
      On second thoughts he shouldn’t because I’m gonna take that idea. Peregrinating has always been one of my favorite pastimes. The only trick is establishing the new name. I’ve spent almost five decades breaking in my current moniker and don’t relish the idea of starting over from scratch, or even mustard it. And being called “Still Roman” sounds like a setup for an Abbot & Costello routine.

      Reply
  6. Michelle

    Hey Christopher! Howzit. Have missed the brain fuel of your posts… I knew of the ‘Pax Romana’ but not that Pax was the goddess’ name. Next crossword BRING IT!
    I also appreciate how you wrote a post with deities from ancient civilisations side by side with old school Ice Warriors… there’d be an interesting Who episode in that, surely? …Maybe not Pax, but perhaps Romanadvoretrelundar? …*mentally high fives self*
    PS did you get the graffiti pics I sent?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      G’day Michelle! Or g’evening or g’morning, although I only recall Slim Dusty singing the first one. Anyway I am astounded and impressed that you can spell out Romana’s full name. And I don’t think we’ve ever seen enough of the Ice Warriors. They must come back for another few rounds with everyone’s favorite Time Lord, but that’s another story.
      I’m afraid I didn’t get the graffiti pics you sent. When did you send them? Darn it, I want to see them.

      Reply
      1. Michelle

        Dangit! I didn’t get this reply in my notifications. Only reason I saw it is because I’m trolling waay back through my feed in case I missed any posts during my hiatus. So, sorry I snobbed you off! Unintentionally, I assure you.
        I sent the graffiti pics… ooo… during my hiatus so well over a month ago I’d say. No probs, I’ll send them again! They are really nice ones I see several times a week as they’re around the corner from my gym, and I finally took the time to walk down and shoot them.
        Annnnd, you’ve heard of Slim Dusty? Now I’M the one who’s astounded. …”G’day g’day, and how ya goin’? Whaddaya know… well strike a light. G’day g’day, and how ya goooooin’, just say g’day g’day g’day and she’ll be right!”
        … Yeah us Aussies talk like that all the time. 😉

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          Nashville used to have a big Australia Festival every August. It was so much fun and was described as the biggest Australia festival outside of Australia anywhere in the world. That’s why I’ve heard of Slim Dusty and met some amazing Aussie performers. And some amazing Aussie people. And that was when I’d stock up on Vegemite for the year. There’s no place in Nashville that I can find that sells it.
          Yeah, I love Vegemite.

          Reply

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