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Once Upon a Time on Mars

A dune buggy is about to set off on behalf of its human owners to fulfill a primordial yearning.

Three and a half billion years ago, waves splashed and streams surged across this dusty expanse on Mars now known as Jezero Crater. On a nascent Earth, chemistry was coagulating toward the exalted state we call life.

Astronomers, philosophers and science fiction writers have long wondered whether nature ran the same experiment there as on Earth. Was Mars another test tube for Darwinian evolution? No longer will you be laughed out of biology class for speculating that life actually evolved on Mars first and drifted to Earth on a meteorite, or that both planets were seeded with microbes or proto-life from somewhere even farther way.

So humans have sent their progeny across time and 300 million miles of space in search of long-lost relatives, ancient roots of a family tree that might be traced in the Red Planet’s soil.

Perseverance and Ingenuity operate on very long leashes: 12 minutes of light-travel time — and signal delay — across the ether from Pasadena, where their creators and tenders wait to see what they have accomplished lately. Like the teenagers you let out the door with the car keys, Perseverance and Ingenuity are no more intelligent and responsible than humans have trained them to be.

The generation that followed World War II carried out the first great reconnaissance of the solar system. It could be the destiny of this generation to carry out the next great reconnaissance, to discover if we have or ever had any neighbors on these worlds. In Jezero Crater, the dream lives on. We may not ever live on Mars, but our machines already do.

Never miss an eclipse, a meteor shower, a rocket launch or any other astronomical and space event that's out of this world.

Category: Science

Source: New York Times

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