cover image The Rock from Mars: A True Detective Story on Two Planets

The Rock from Mars: A True Detective Story on Two Planets

Kathy Sawyer, . . Random, $25.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6010-8

When geologist Robbie Score spied the little green rock lying on the bluish-white Antarctic landscape on a December day in 1984, she had no idea it would change her life, provoke fierce controversies among scientists around the world and challenge humankind's view of ourselves. Her discovery was the meteorite from Mars that captured the world's attention in 1996 when NASA scientists claimed that minuscule structures deep within it were the fossilized remains of ancient Martian life. As former Washington Post science writer Sawyer relates, the aftermath wasn't pretty. Supporters and doubters quickly circled their wagons and showed that world-class scientists don't always play well with others. Actually, as Sawyer tells readers, the nanostructures were the least convincing evidence for life. Other evidence—equally tiny magnetic structures similar to those made by bacteria here on Earth—was much stronger. Many readers probably are under the impression that the claims have been debunked, but the author explains that using more sophisticated instruments and techniques, supporters actually have bolstered their case, although without future geological samples from Mars, we may never know if life ever flourished or still exists there. This book is an engrossing read for science buffs and general readers alike. (On sale Feb. 14)