Dr. Fred Bortzbooks

Review of The Real Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, Mars Express and the Quest to Explore the Red Planet

by Michael Hanlon

(Carroll & Graf, 288 pages, $35.00, December, 2004)

Recommended by Dr. Fred Bortz

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Here's the perfect gift for a person who loves to read about interplanetary journeys and life on other worlds. The Real Mars is a captivating, richly illustrated coffee table book of true tales about alien planetary invasions.

We humans are the invaders, and the subject of our quest is Mars. Since Percival Lowell hypothesized about a dying civilization there 100 years ago, scientists have repeatedly found, rejected, and argued about signs of past and present life on that planet. When telescopic images were not enough, they sent spacecraft. Each successful mission returned tantalizing evidence -- and more questions.

The Viking landers of the 1970s sampled the Martian soil, sniffed the Martian atmosphere, and enabled scientists to recognize a handful of meteorites as Martian in origin. Some claimed to have seen signs of life in the Viking samples, but the consensus view was otherwise. In 1996, a group of scientists claimed evidence of Martian fossils in one Mars meteorite, but others proposed non-biologic explanations. All agreed that more exploration is called for, like the still-active Spirit and Opportunity Rovers and an international regatta of orbiting spacecraft, including Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Express.

Many scientists regard those missions as stepping stones toward the goal of direct human exploration, which appears to be possible within a generation. In a few decades, aliens from Earth may discover The Real Mars; but for those of us too impatient to wait, this book will deliver the next best thing.

Children's science author and Ph.D. physicist Fred Bortz is the author of Martian Fossils on Earth? The Story of Meteorite ALH84001.

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