50 years ago - Life on Mars?

With speculation about life on Mars making the news once again, it seems timely to look back and see what was being written on the subject 50 years ago. Back in 1959, the space age was very much in its infancy and America had only recently entered the space race with the launch of Explorer 1 in January 1958. The select committee on astronautics and space exploration was set up a few weeks later on 5 March during the 85th congress. A flurry of reports were soon being tabled, including the special staff report: Space Handbook: Astronautics and its Applications, which was submitted on 29 December and published in 1959. The extract below shows the state of 'official' thinking about life on Mars at that time.

'Bleak and desert like as Mars appears to be, with no free oxygen and little, if any, water, there is rather good evidence that some indigenous life forms may exist.

The seasonal color changes, from green in spring to brown in autumn, suggest vegetation. Recently Sinton has found spectroscopic evidence that organic molecules may be responsible for the Martian dark areas. The objections raised concerning differences between the color and infrared reflectivities of terrestrial organic matter and those of the dark areas on Mars have been successfully met by the excellent work of Prof. G.A. Tikhov and his colleagues of the new Soviet Institute of Astrobiology. Tikhov has shown that arctic plants differ in infrared reflection from temperate and tropical plants, and an extrapolation to Martian conditions leads to the conclusion that the dark areas are really Martian vegetable life'

This picture of Mars was taken by Tony Sizer through our 28-inch refractor back in November 2005.


Although Mars will not be visible in the evening sky until much later this year, Invaders of Mars is showing daily in our planetarium until 17 May.