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Seeds of doubt about life on Mars

July 08, 1997

People think it's easy being a columnist, but it is not.

It is an enterprise that requires one to always be on his toes and alert to developing trends. Take - oh, I don't know - a prolonged drought, for example. I've been watching, waiting, biding my time.

People forget.

But I never forget.

The situation was ripe for exploitation.

With my impeccable, Tony Gwynn-like timing I was ready to go with my expose, my revelation that the cloud seeders must be back!

Then it rained. No, it didn't rain, it poured, absolutely poured. Early Monday morning I sat quietly in the dark by the window, the horizontal shadows from the Venetian blinds across my face. My jaw muscles worked tensely as each flash of lightning projected my hideously enlarged and distended shadow on the wall across the room.

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The rain not only washed away thick layers of dust from the street, it washed away every last word, every last theory, every last calculation, every last bit of wisdom of my cloud-seeding column until my screen was bleached white as fishbones on a Texas beach.

Ten minutes of work, right down the tubes.

Thanks a lot, guys. What happened, your plane break a strut? More likely you were out partying all holiday weekend and were too groggy to find your Snoopy aviator's cap, goggles and scarf. Thanks. Thanks for thinking about how your irresponsibilities affect other people.

Well pooh, who needs you? For I have bigger fish to fry. Oh yes, lots bigger fish, based on evidence collected by exhaustive research on the Internet coupled with details provided by NASA's Mars exploration.

First, maybe I watched Capricorn I a few too many times, but doesn't the "Martian surface" look a little too made-for-TV? I almost expect them to screw up and show one of the Kleig lights off to the side.

And who's idea was it to start naming the rocks? Who do we look like, Miss Sally from Romper Room? "And I see Barnacle Bill, and Yogi and Rocky and Pebbles and Sandy and..." Good heavens, there's still no intelligent life on Mars.

Anyway, the headline in The (Baltimore) Sun Tuesday said "Mars shows evidence of vast floods/Pathfinder's photos put deluge width at hundreds of miles/Ancient wet condition raises question: Did life exist?"

This has scientists in a tizzy because, in part, if they find evidence of life on Mars it could perk up lagging public interest in the space program and perked up public interest generally means perked up public funding.

Monday, two fellows from NASA were on television trying to get the public pumped up on Mars. The interviewers kept asking "Why should we care?" and the scientists answered that what happened on Mars several zillion years ago could have "implications" for the history of Planet Earth.

I say we better listen to the eggheads.

Because although there may have been life on Mars at one time, I think we can all agree there is no life on Mars. The place is a barren wasteland.

Ah, but according to the Sun story, scientists believe that 4.5 billion years ago (last Tuesday) Mars had "floodplains" and that an awesome deluge "swept over much of the Red Planet."

With all that water sloshing around the possibilities for life were boundless. So what happened? Deep down don't we all already know?

That's right. The Martians became a race of cloud seeders.

And looked what happened. Oh, just as on Earth, it probably started innocently enough - The Martians would seed a thunderstorm here or a tropical depression there to give the construction industry more time to build homes.

But after a while you just can't stop. And who knows? Four billion years from now some little go-kart from Venus might be snooping around the barren wasteland that is Earth, scooping up our dust, giving our rocks silly names and speculating whether life on this dark, desolate, chalky planet ever could have existed.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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