The Sirens of Mars: Searching For Life on Another World

Sarah Stewart Johnson. Crown, $28.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-101-90481-7
Planetary scientist Johnson delivers an enthusiastic and lyrical chronicle of the scientific quest to uncover Mars’s secrets. From Mars’s prominent place in the night sky, to the water-filled “canali” 19th-century Milanese astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli and 20th-century Mars enthusiast Percival Lowell imagined they perceived on its surface, the red planet has long provoked imagination and speculation. “Before it rusted over, Mars was much more like Earth,” Johnson writes by way of explaining why modern scientists, including herself, have searched for life on an apparently barren planet. Evincing a gift for vivid imagery, she shares memories from her own work, including of how computer software transforms images of the Martian surface into detail-packed, “psychedelic swathes of colors.” She also provides a general timeline of the four Mars rover missions, detailing the goals and findings of each one, always focusing on the discoveries’ implications for the search for alien life, as when a rover discovered traces of the elements required for life: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Johnson’s skillful narrative will engage serious students of planetary science as well as armchair adventurers curious about “a wilderness stretching off into the horizon, vast and full of possibility.” (June)
Reviewed on : 02/27/2020
Release date: 06/16/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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