So it’s a little late, but I wonder if he got to see this before he left us. On the left is a picture from the slopes of Mt. Sharp, on the planet Mars. It is described as a strange geologic formation created by internal stresses and fracturing in the Martian surface. And no doubt that’s true, and interesting on the face of it. The gradual fading of the pattern on the perimiter suggests some natural process at work. Yet the romantic in me just cannot stop comparing this photograph to aerial photographs of archelogoical sites on Earth, especially the Southwest and Middle East. And I see walls and alleyways and rooms and houses packed close together for a people who had to cluster together around the site of scarce resources on a dying planet. Part of me, even though pretty much all of me knows better, would like to see this as the remains of a Martian city. I think I can lay at least some of this attitude at Ray Bradbury’s feet. I mean, he wasn’t the only one with such notions. Edgar Rice Burroughs was writing about Martian princesses and four-armed tharks before Ray Bradbury was born. But you obviously won’t find Dejah Thoris hanging out in a dump like that. This is The Martian Chronicles territory.
In a little over a month, assuming all goes well, NASA will be dropping a new robotic rover, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) into the vicinity, a rover with a pretty boring name but much more muscle and payload than Spirit and Opportunity carried. (See full article at Wired Magazine). I’m sure the MSL will get to the bottom of this, since Mt. Sharp is apparently on its agenda. And we’ll discover something marvelous, like a really strange set of perfectly natural formations due to internal stresses below the Martian surface. Perhaps even some insight into how geologic processes on Mars compare to similar ones on Earth. What’s the same, but also perhaps what is totally unexpected, which is the real prize and the sort of thing that usually precedes breakthroughs in our understanding of how the universe works. And I will think that is cool, too.
“Too?” Yeah, I know. But despite the slings and arrows and yadda yadda we all have to go through, I haven’t quite managed to lose that old-fashioned sense of wonder. Granted, it takes a lot these days to pump up the spark, but it hasn’t gone out completely. Still there, still smoldering. I think Ray Bradbury may have something to do with that.
And I’m still holding out for a city.