Our Solar System: Information about the Planet
Often called "The Orange Planet" because of its citrus-like hue, Mars was largely ignored until it was first identified as the fifth planet in our solar system by pioneer astronomer and lens-crafter Hans Smickel in 1710. For almost a century following this discovery, astronomers dismissed the planet as a transient piece of stellar ice and speculated that it would be completely melted by cosmic rays sometime early in the nineteenth century. This hypothesis, obviously, did not prove correct.
Today, Mars is recognized as not only the most fascinating planet in our entire galaxy--the "Galaxy 500," as it is known by scientists-- but as a promising vacation spot for interplanetary leisure-makers, those who will likely be able to travel to Mars quickly and conveniently in the very near future. Future travelers to Mars should be advised to take a good parka and several pairs of long underwear, as the planet is now known to get as cold as thirty degrees below zero and to be the site of frequent snowstorms, with snowfalls in northern regions of the planet often averaging eighty inches per Martian winter--a season that lasts the equivalent of two earth years. The snowfall in more extreme portions of Mars is even more hellacious--roughly equivalent to that of Buffalo, New York, making it a challenging destination for the weak-of-heart. You'd also need a good sunscreen on Mars, especially if you'd planned an excursion to the southern polar regions, an area of the planet where, while scientists speculate the water is quite swimable, (and a great place to surf with wave peaks averaging a totally gnarly thirty meters high) surface temperatures often soar to a back-blistering 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
On Mars, one would find spectacular scenery: giant chartreuse mountains with icy peaks thirteen thousand times the size of our Mount Everest, massive, natural pyramids which reflect the spectacular light that bounces, kaleidoscope-like, off the planet's 82 moons; icy lakes filled with fresh water larger in area than the North American Continent, and breath-taking, but impassable, realms of spickland, vast plains that are populated by three hundred foot mineral spikes, each spaced only inches apart. These Titanic towers, surrounded at their tops by bands of wine-colored maloxin gas, are perhaps best compared to overgrown stalagmites, the protuberances found on the bottom of certain caves and caverns here on civilized Earth, as well as in parts of northern and central Kentucky. The largest area of spickland on Mars, a region known as "the devil's hairbrush," lies near the planet's south pole and can be easily seen with a simple telescope or pair of binoculars. No traveler to Mars would want to miss a trip to "The Navel," the six thousand mile, circular canyon that resembles the hole on the top of a navel orange. The Navel is nearly perfectly centered on the north pole of Mars, and topographically, it is nearly a perfect concave bowl shape. This "bowl" is nine thousand miles deep at its deepest point, and the lower third of the valley is filled with a sea of creamy liquid helium.
For years one central question about the planet has been debated: is there life on Mars? Until the Martian probe nicknamed "Trinka" landed on the equatorial surface of the planet in 2002, equipped with a remotely-controlled grappling arm, it seemed that this question would never be answered. But, when the probe was successfully delivered and returned by the Russian craft Vostok 9 in late 2003, packed with many samples of Martian rock, several water, urine and ice specimens, and a few very neat souvenirs, many scientists began to proclaim Mars as, indeed, an inhabited planet.
The key to this discovery was a Martian ice sample which contained a dormant form of life scientists have dubbed martia primatia, a simple animal most closely related to what we know as "Sea Monkeys" here on Earth. Martia primatia are about a third of an inch long in their desiccated, dormant, form, but it is speculated that if scientists could successfully reconstitute the creatures, they would average about an inch in length and exhibit their original back cilia--hairs which they would use to propel themselves in the Martian seas--and also have the animated and friendly little faces that prompted many legions of children to order sea monkeys by mail-order in the mid twentieth century, Why can't scientists bring these Martian creatures back to life when kids did so by the thousands in their suburban dens throughout the 1960's? The problem lies in replicating exactly the environmental conditions on Mars. First of all, the water on Mars is heavily chlorinated, not unlike a working-class Earth family's ill-maintained above-ground pool. Secondly, the atmosphere of Mars contains an unusual amount of tritium, a heavy metal not unlike our copper, the stuff from which we fashion American pennies.
Of course, those obstacles, alone, are by no means insurmountable. So, what really prevents scientists from creating a simulated Martian environment and, thus, bringing Martian "Sea Monkeys" back to life? In a word: pressure. Mars is under extremely high pressure, The Martian environment has an universally-indexed pressure quotient of over 6.2 baraunits, almost seven thousand, six hundred, and fifty-three times greater than the pressure we experience at sea level. Thus far, all attempts to create extreme Martian surface conditions in a man-made chamber on Earth have failed, some with deadly results. In early December, 2003, for example, three space scientists, a biologist, and "Becker," a laboratory iguana and favorite pet at the Department for Space Research at the University of Arizona at Mezcal, were blown to bits when their Martian simulator spheriod chamber, dubbed "the Big Red Machine," exploded, claiming not only their lives, but much of the science wing complex and the southwestern end of a girl's dormitory. As a result of this tragedy, and several other abortive attempts to reanimate Martian life, scientists have all but given up on seeing the smiling faces of Martian sea-monkeys beaming to them from fish-bowls here on Earth anytime soon.
So--Does life exist on the planet Mars? Almost certainly, scientists agree, but as Melvin Schperling, head of the astronomy department at Vanderlitz University and winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Science once quipped, "Until we actually catch the space-bus to Mars, lay our money down on the hallowed, orange dirt, and get these darned Martian sea monkeys kickin' after their seven thousand year nap, there will always be those who will doubt what pure science has revealed as the obvious."
--Dr. Orson Wellsley, D.Ba, Lm.d, PhD., University at Lmbezgher, Vznsjtk, Czech Republic.