In less than a month we celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the great achievements of humankind: the landing of astronauts on the moon.
Our celestial learnings have increased tremendously in that time. We have launched powerful telescopes to peer into the depths of space. We have spotted and photographed a black hole. We have landed craft on planets and sent others crashing into atmospheres.
The technology that spawned our space program has altered our Earthly domain innumerably. The smartphone you hold in your hand has more computing power and speed than that used for that initial moon landing.
These past 50 years have delivered moments of great marvel, and they are continuing. Consider, for example, the discovery NASA shared just last week.
The space agency’s Curiosity rover, rambling about the surface of Mars, has detected something previously unknown about the Red Planet.
Mars is farting.
Now, NASA didn’t quite frame it in that way. Rather, its scientists portrayed this latest bit of science as a previously unknown discovery that Mars is casting off high amounts of methane gas, a sign that there could have been life on the planet.
This is how The New York Times conveyed it: “Mars, it appears, is belching a large amount of a gas that could be a sign of microbes living on the planet today. In a measurement taken on Wednesday, NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered startlingly high amounts of methane in the Martian air, a gas that on Earth is usually produced by living things.”
Or, in other words, Mars is farting.
This methane madness isn’t new. Scientists have been trying to take whiffs for a while now. The European Space Agency has been pretty involved these last few years. Occasionally they’ll catch a scent, then nothing, then something a bit more. No word on whether the increased detections have coincided with Taco Tuesdays.
Among all our years of worrying about Martians — from Orson Welles to Marvin the Martian, “My Favorite Martian” to Jack Nicholson and “Mars Attacks!” — never have we once contemplated that its secret weapon might be silent but deadly in a way more akin to a night in the fraternity house.
And to think we’ve always considered Mars a rocky planet, when it could actually be gaseous.
Mars might need a Gas-X.
This all really contradicts what we’ve come to know of Mars, scientifically anyway. Ever since we began taking pictures of its surface in the ’70s, we’ve come to hypothesize that Mars might once have harbored water. It could have been warmer. Now, given the signs of methane gas, perhaps life really did exist.
Scientists, using their experience of methane on Earth, know that it does well in deep dark spots: underground rock croppings or, say, the digestive tracts of animals. And, as the Times story says, the latter “release methane as a waste product.”
NASA, a characteristically buttoned- up and understated agency known for its minimalist jargon, calls the methane discovery an “early science result.”
The agency, in a statement, says that “To maintain scientific integrity, the project science team will continue to analyze the data before confirming results.”
Look, further analysis is not needed here. We can pretty much sum this one up in a theorem rather well-proven over time: Whoever smelt it, dealt it.
Martians have always been portrayed as being green. Perhaps now we know why: The poor little guys have indigestion. Maybe they’re up there right now, pushing themselves away from their sturdy Martian dinner tables, their little Martian belts unbuckled, their bloated guts hanging over their prodigious Martian bellies, and they’re softly moaning to each other, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”
Our interplanetary exploration probes contained a “golden record” that played back recordings and images of everyday life on Earth, in the event anyone should discover them. I am hoping, for Mars’ sake, that one of those recordings was an Alka-Seltzer commercial: “Plop plop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is.”
Someone help a Martian brother out.