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The Curiosity rover, a science robot the size of a car, is on its way to Mars where it will use a new landing system and hopefully spend several fruitful years trundling about. One of the coolest instruments on it is a laser gun coupled with a spectrometer: Curiosity can zap a rock from a distance and determine its chemical composition by looking at the colours of the light emitted by the heated material. I’m going to watch this mission closely.

On the rover is the above sundial cum camera calibration target, designed by Jon Lomberg (who already has three pieces of art on Mars). Note the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth (blue disc) and Mars (red disc). Around the dial are the planet’s name in various scripts and languages, including Sumerian cuneiform, Mayan glyphs, Inuktitut, Hebrew, Chinese and Hawaiian (I miss Arabic). The edges of the dial bear the following inscription, written by Jim Bell.

“For millennia, Mars has stimulated our imaginations. First we saw Mars as a wandering red star, a bringer of war from the abode of the gods. In recent centuries, the planet’s changing appearance in telescopes caused us to think that Mars had a climate like the Earth’s. Our first space age views revealed only a cratered, Moon-like world but later missions showed that Mars once had abundant liquid water. Through it all, we have wondered: Has there been life on Mars? To those taking the next steps to find out, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery.”

A fine piece, in my opinion! But it may contain the first copy-editing glitch on Mars. There’s a double space between “but” and “later” in the fourth sentence. A double space in space!

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Comments

  1. #1 Birger Johansson
    December 5, 2011

    Slightly OT: -Is there intelligent life on Earth?
    “Parents in massive brawl at kids’ hockey game” http://www.thelocal.se/37744/20111205/

    Mars is sadly devoid of the kind of exciting surface features painted by Chesley Bonestell in the fifties, but it will be a fun place for geologists (Areologists).

    I once worked out a way to provide water for Mars with minimum energy: Give the Kuiper belt “iceteroid” 1996 TL 66 a very slight retrograde nudge at aphelion (at 130 AU it would take less than 200/s) and it will pass near Neptune’s orbit 1500 years later for a gravity assist towards the inner solar system and Mars. A 200-400 km blob of mostly ice should provide a big splash. Of course, I would have to invent immortality to enjoy a swim in the new Martian lakes.

  2. #2 Deborah
    December 5, 2011

    “Everybody needs an editor.”

    I’ve always been a fan of space & space travel. I remember in my teens reading a big colorful magazine feature about how we could one day terraform Mars and being really torn by the idea. On the one hand, yeah, wow, let’s go there and do that. On the other—go & explore but build a dome or go underground or something; leave Mars alone. I used to think I would live to see what happens but now I doubt it.

  3. #3 David
    December 5, 2011

    By a strange twist of fate the rover will be discovered by an alien race with typography-nazi tendencies. They will just nuke us from space, the only way to make sure…

  4. #4 SteveH
    December 5, 2011

    I wouldn’t sent anything other than ‘bots to that dry, forbidden place anyway. Period.

  5. #5 Birger Johansson
    December 6, 2011

    OT: No intelligent life on Earth:
    “Police ‘didn’t want’ pre-bomb video footage” http://www.thelocal.se/article.php?ID=37754#comment695219
    — — — — — — — — — — —
    ” Around the dial are the planet’s name in various scripts and languages, including Sumerian cuneiform, Mayan glyphs, Inuktitut, Hebrew, Chinese and Hawaiian”

    -Since similar words occur randomly across different languages, one of the inscriptions now seems to say, in the language of the aliens “Go stick your head in a pig” *

    * With apologies to Douglas Adams

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