Monday memo #5: Life on Mars

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Each day The Browser recommends five or six of the best pieces of writing that we can find anywhere online. The more diverse the better.

The Monday Memo reverses that approach. It brings together four pieces of outstanding writing with a common theme.

This week: Life on Mars

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Exodus From Earth (
Ross Andersen | Aeon | 30th September 2014

Elon Musk talks about SpaceX, space exploration, the future of humanity and the need to settle other planets. "If we can establish a Mars colony, we can almost certainly colonise the whole Solar System, because we’ll have created a strong economic forcing function for the improvement of space travel". But reaching the stars will be another order of difficulty: "You need generational ships. You need antimatter drives" (6,900 words)
Life Beyond Earth (
Michael Lemonick | National Geographic | 1st July 2014

In the past 20 years astronomers have found two thousand planets orbiting sun-like stars outside our solar system. The question is not so much whether other life is out there, but what kind of life it might be. If it is not even carbon-based, for example, how can we hope to recognise it? Astrobiologists are studying the most extreme life-forms on Earth, from Antarctic ice sheets to Mexican caves, looking for clues (4,116 words)
Martian Chroniclers (
Burkhard Bilger | New Yorker | 15th April 2013

The search for life on Mars enters its sixth decade. Forty spacecraft have gone there without finding one living thing or fossil. Yet we keep on searching, partly because Mars is all that we have to search, at least within reasonable distance. It has sunlight, water, carbon, nitrogen, the building blocks of life. A few billion years ago Mars and Earth had similar prospects for development. Why the difference now? Why us, and not them? (11,418 words)
Does Mars Have Rights? (
Ronald Bailey | Reason | 8th November 2011

So long as we are engaged mainly in a scientific search for signs of indigenous life on Mars, we will take care not to contaminate Mars with living matter from Earth. But if travel to Mars becomes easier, our priorities will shift. We will want to transform Mars so that it is more hospitable to terrestrial life, probably by introducing greenhouse gases and plant life. But what are the ethics of doing so? Do we have obligations to other planets? (2,000 words)
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Robert Cottrell, Editor
Duncan Brown, Publisher

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