NASA made a little announcement a big deal yesterday, probably to stimulate interest in the exploration of a planet that holds lots of mysteries, but little real evidence that life exists. The water discovered there, which has been theorized for several decades, confirms what many have suggested earlier pictures showed: water, very salty water, exists on and near the planets surface. Such water has the capacity to support via simple microbes but not large organisms. Organic life has a difficult time catching hold with such conditions. Finding salt water in relatively low amounts is more interesting than finding rocks in strange shapes, but it hardly fluffs the skirts of those who are serious about seeking proof for extraterrestrial life, especially intelligent life.

A Self-Portrait by "Curiosity"
A Self-Portrait by “Curiosity”

The search for life on Mars has taken on extravagant approaches hoping against hope, that extraterrestrial life can be proven to once have existed there. Sometime ago, as highlighted in my 2014 book, Lying Wonders of the Red Planet, writer Benjamin Radford provided a pithy characterization of the search for life on Mars gone sideways. From his skeptical perspective, “seeing things is the essence of the problem.” Radford recounts:

Photos of the surface of Mars taken by the NASA robot Spirit in 2008 were said to show a humanlike figure. Several Internet sites posted the image and suggested the figure could be alive, sparking speculation and controversy. The real explanation, according to astronomer Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy website, is that “The rock on Mars is actually just a few inches high and a few yards from the camera. A few million years of Martian winds sculpted it into an odd shape, which happens to look like, well, a Bigfoot!”


Then in 2010 a team of psychics led by Courtney Brown, a researcher at Emory University claimed to have found evidence not only of life on Mars in NASA photos, but also a large industrial dome and a plume of waste coming from it. In a video presentation titled “Evidence of Artificiality on Mars,” Brown claimed to have found “a very large dome that is highly reflective, it looks like it’s made of some sort of resin material.” Needless to say, no other evidence of an alien dome has ever been found.

History and human psychology tell us that sooner or later, one or more of the thousands of images beaming to us from Curiosity 352 million miles away will contain some glitch, anomaly, or trick of light that will be interpreted by someone as evidence of Martians. Of course it’s possible that the rover will find real, actual evidence of life on Mars – but it probably won’t be in the form of alien bases.[1]

It’s easy to forget that 60 years ago most scientists believed in life on Mars. From LiveScience, 08-03-2012, Josh Bandfield a Mars expert and planetary scientist at the University of Washington is quoted making this observation: “Before the Mariner flybys in the 1960s, scientists thought Mars had water and life, even if it was just some sort of plantlike lichen. Mars’ spectrum, its color in the near infrared, mimics that of vegetation. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, they concluded that was evidence of chlorophyll, and Mars had vegetation.”[2]

In the article by Becky Oskin, she cites Bob Crossley, emeritus professor of English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and author of the book Imagining Mars: A Literary History (Wesleyan, 2011): “The nature of people’s interest in Mars has evolved in the last 50 or 60 years, but it’s never entirely vanished.” Oskin points out that the early Mariner missions to Mars dampened enthusiasm for Mars. All of a sudden, the planet looked much too much like our own moon, with craters and vast expanses of nothingness. Much to the dismay of the public, Mars appeared to be dead as a doornail.


In the 1960s, the early Mariner missions prompted a radical change in our relationship with Mars, when images showed an apparently dead, cratered planet.

“The flyby showed pictures of a very moonlike landscape, which had a staggering effect,” said [Bob] Sheehan [psychologist, amateur astronomer, and author]. “It left people quite demoralized.” NASA’s expeditions may have killed some of the Red Planet’s romanticism, Sheehan believes. “The less defined an object is like Mars, the more evocative it is. We use it as a Rorschach [the infamous ink-blot test] to project our hopes and fears on to. As Mars becomes more explored, it becomes a more quotidian setting [i.e., commonplace, unremarkable] that no longer captures the imagination,” Sheehan said.[3]

In the final ironic analysis regarding whether the Red Planet harbors life, the reality of the situation is certainly most unromantic: the closer we get to Mars, it seems the worse our view becomes.


NASA is seeking to establish a raison d’être. I happen to believe exploration of Mars would be a wonderful adventure. And naturally, raising expectations that the exploration might yield proof that life exists, even if very simple, certainly intrigues us. But the real issue is not so much whether life exists on Mars today, but whether intelligent life once existed there, thousands if not millions of years ago. That is a very different matter and one that I take up in the book I devoted to the topic. If you are interested in perusing the most interesting phenomena about Mars and especially how Mars has influenced our culture for the past 150 years, I encourage you to pick up a copy.  Its available through a number of ministries that sell my books such as Prophecy Watchers and Prophecy in the News.  It is also available on Kindle and Amazon.


[1] See http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57490417/why-curiosity-rover-is-likely-to-find-martians/. Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His Web site is www.BenjaminRadford.com.

[2] See http://www.livescience.com/22119-mars-cultural-fascination.html.

[3] Ibid.