Life on Mars

NASA scientists recently announced that life on Mars is possible.  At the very least, they’ve determined it’s not impossible.  We’re still a long way from finding actual Martian life, either in bacterial form or as some kind of prehistoric fossil, but this is a big step forward in Mars research.

Four View of Mars In Northern Summer


I happen to believe that anywhere in the universe that life can develop it inevitably will.  I don’t have much scientific evidence to back that up, other than the extremophile species here on Earth and the mold that keeps spontaneously evolving in my fridge.  But that’s okay.  I’m not a scientist.  I’m a science fiction writer.

The story I’m currently writing is about an ancient civilization on Mars.  This being the Tomorrow News Network series, you can bet something disastrous is about to happen to that ancient civilization.

And for the record, if NASA had announced that they’d proven life on Mars was impossible, I’d be writing this story anyway.  A good motto for any science fiction writer is, “Never let science get in the way of a good story.”

We’re Going to Mars!

Well everyone, I’m back after an unplanned, two-week hiatus, and I am once again hard at work on Tomorrow News Network short stories.  This month, we’re going to Mars, so I figured this is a good opportunity to talk about some of the latest news concerning the Red Planet.

Mars -- March 10, 1997


Several weeks ago, the Curiosity rover did something amazing: it dug a hole on Mars.  Okay, that doesn’t sound impressive, but Curiosity is searching for evidence that Mars could support life, either currently or at some point in the past.  We’ve never tested the soil beneath the surface layer.  It is possible that some form of bacteria live there, or maybe they don’t.  Either way, it’s a place we’ve never looked before.  So although digging a hole may not sound like much, it is a truly historic moment.  Click here to read more about it.  Click here to see a picture of Curiosity proudly standing over its work.

Also, a brand new non-profit organization called the Inspiration Mars Foundation has announced plans to send a married couple to Mars in 2018.  Sounds like the perfect, 501-day honeymoon to me.  Despite all the dangers (boredom, claustrophobia, radiation exposure and increased risk of cancer) it almost makes me want to run out and get married.  The Inspiration Mars crew will not get to land on the Red Planet.  They’ll just fly by, but another non-profit wants to send four colonists to Mars in 2023.  To read more about these Mars missions, click here.

The upcoming Tomorrow News Network story will focus on future colonial civilization on Mars and the relationship the colonists have with the Martian bacteria crawling around underground.  Of course this is not the first time the Tomorrow News Network has been to Mars.  In last year’s story “Death to History,” TNN reporter Talie Tappler covered a presidential assassination on Mars.  Some of the characters and concepts from “Death to History” will be back in the new story.

Click here to start reading “Death to History.”

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

Recently, the Templeton Foundation asked Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Does the universe have a purpose?”  Here is his answer, as illustrated by Minute Physics.

For those of you who don’t feel like watching the video, his answer is basically, “Probably not.”

Now I could engage in some character assassination here.  For example, when Dr. Tyson made a guest appearance on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me! he got all his questions wrong, so how smart can he really be?  Also, this is the [expletive deleted] who decided Pluto’s not a planet.  But I won’t go there.  In fact, I have a lot of admiration and respect for Dr. Tyson; I just disagree with him about this one issue.  And also Pluto.

I happen to be a religious man.  I go to church (almost) every Sunday.  My prayers and meditation have brought me a greater sense of peace in my life, but I can’t say they’ve enlightened me as to the purpose of the universe.  And yet whenever I stand outside gazing up at the stars, I know the universe is big and complicated and beautiful beyond words, and I feel it deep in my thumping heart, in the strength of my bones, in the very chemistry of my body that there is a purpose.  That all this couldn’t be for nothing.

The real question to me is not, “Does the universe have a purpose?” but, “What is that purpose?”  That I do not know.  Science can’t give me that answer, and I’m not sure religion can either.  I expect I’ll live my entire life never finding the answer, yet I remain convinced the answer does exist.

How about you?  Do you think the universe has a purpose?  What do you think it might be?

Alpha Centauri Has a Planet!

As you may have heard by now, scientists have discovered a planet in the Alpha Centauri star system.  I wrote a brief update on it for my old blog, Planet Pailly (click here).  But this is the Tomorrow News Network.  This website is all about news from the future.  So here are some future discoveries in the Alpha Centauri star system.

Soon, scientists will find that Alpha Centauri has many planets.  Because Alpha Centauri is a binary star (in fact, it’s a trinary star if you include Proxima Centauri), the orbits of its many planets will be a bit more complicated than those in our own Solar System.  Some will orbit Alpha Centauri A.  Some will orbit Alpha Centauri B (like the one we just discovered).  A few cold, icy worlds will have wide orbits around them both, and even the tiny dwarf star of Proxima Centauri will have a few planets of its own.  In total, the Alpha Centauri System will have more planets than our own Solar System.

At least one planet (or possibly a moon) will be capable of supporting life.  We know this because one day we’ll send colonists there.  We’ve seen way too many Science Fiction stories set in Alpha Centauri to believe otherwise.  In fact, given that Alpha Centauri has three stars, the odds of finding a habitable planet should be three times better than finding a one in this Solar System.

Of course, the first human colony in Alpha Centauri will be a paradise… that is until the colonists discover the evil, alien intelligence which has lain dormant there for millions of years.

These are my predictions for future discoveries in Alpha Centauri.  What do you think we’ll find out there?

Why You Should Go Stargazing

The other night, I was playing with the apps on my phone when one of them told me the International Space Station was about to fly over my house.  Naturally, I grabbed my coat and ran outside to catch a glimpse.  I’ve seen the ISS a few times before.  Many apps and websites and at least one Twitter feed will tell you when it’s going to pass over your neighborhood.

After the ISS was gone, I wasted a few more minutes just standing outside staring up at the stars.  I have a few favorites in the sky, like the Orion Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy.  Orion can be seen with the naked eye.  Andromeda’s not so easy.  I’ve only seen it once, on a dark night when I was out in the middle of nowhere with a pair of binoculars, but I know exactly where it is: right between the constellations Cassiopeia and Pegasus.  When I look up at all those distant stars and nebulae and galaxies, I like to imagine there’s some squishy creature with three eyes, a few tentacles, and buckteeth staring back at me.

We humans are so small and all the things we think are big problems–they really don’t matter in this huge universe of ours.  Even the International Space Station, one of our greatest accomplishments, is insignificant compared to everything else that’s out there.

Sometimes the pressures of mortgages, dental appointments, and gas prices can be overwhelming.  Sometimes the troubles of the world can be depressing.  Sometimes it’s just really frustrating when the TV remote stops working and you don’t have any spare batteries.  Those are the times when maybe we should stop, look up at the stars, and put ourselves in perspective with the rest of the universe.  The universe is a beautiful thing.  We’re just lucky we get to be part of it.

P.S.: Want to know when the International Space Station will fly over your house?  Here’s NASA’s webpage.  Just go to the “Sighting Opportunities” section and select your country, state, and then town.