Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Carl Sagan Owes Percival Lowell An Apology

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I saw Carl Sagan's Cosmos in the seventh grade thanks to my science teacher. She had VHS copies (bootlegs) that we watched. I really liked them for the most part. The Mars episode really stuck with me in part because Sagan talked about Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom and it was all backed by Holst's Mars: The Bringer of War.
It moved me.
Then he talked about what Percival Lowell thought he saw, the canals on Mars and such, the receding of seasons and movements of a dying race - and what a load it was and how deluded Lowell had been to think he saw such things.

And then last Thursday NASA up and says looking at these pics it seems that maybe Mars has flowing briny water on the surface. They did also say that the water would have to be briny to be flowing in the Martian cold.

With all of that in mind, I think Sagan gave Lowell a bum rap and he ought to be giving him a posthumous apology, at least now that he can do it in spirit.

Still overall it doesn't really look like they found anything after all, they won't go looking closer for fear of contamination but then isn't the Rover's very presence equal contamination. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against checking things out but lets be realistic, we already have alien robots on the planet go take a closer look!

I read some articles saying how this was all grandstanding in a way to help promote the new The Martian movie and I'm just cynical enough to wonder if that isn't the case. Personally I'd rather they just do another John Carter of Mars.

And while I don't personally put any stock in the Martian face, pyramids etc I do heartily think they should be looking closer at a lot of things!


Keith West said...

It's incredibly easy, when you have more and better data and speak from a position of authority, to look down on those whose work you're building on. I never met Sagan (I have a coworker who knew him), but my impression is that the man was a little bit arrogant at times. Did Lowell engage in a bit of wishful thinking? Probably, at least by today's standards. But his conclusions weren't inconsistent with the state of knowledge at the time he made his observations. Where he went wrong was in being more open to alternative explanations for what he saw. I'd take Lowell's Mars any day over the one we've got. (What I'd really like is Leigh Brackett's Mars, but that's a different topic.)

From what I know and have seen regarding the landers, they're pretty much sterile (or as sterile as possible) when they're launched. The last thing anyone wants is a contaminant from Earth giving a false positive in an experiment. They should investigate the areas where liquid water is believed to have been. The rovers might not be able to travel the distance. I don't know where they are in relation to the water areas, not do I know how many are still functional. What we should do is send a rover with a set of experiments designed for that particular area.

Yeah, I'd love to see another John Carter movie.

And finally, where did you get that last picture?

Charles Gramlich said...

we know they'll find cool things. Just depends on how cool.

David J. West said...

Keith, well said.
That last picture has been floating around for awhile, (without a good explanation). I don't believe its doctored, its pretty weird.

Too right Charles, I'm anxious for them to look closer at a few things.