The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World by Sarah Stewart Johnson
Another enjoyable popular science book that is part memoir. Planetary scientist Sarah Stewart Johnson describes human interest in Mars, from just seeing a bright spot in the sky to Lowell imagining canals and civilizations to William Pickering reporting the weather on Mars from Jamaica, with incredible descriptions. Then disappointments, with failed missions and bleak, lifeless images interspersed with joys, such as finding that there is water on Mars, and not all of it is acidic.
The summer after her freshman year in college, Sarah got to travel to the Mojave Desert to help test early versions of Mars rovers. She grew up in Kentucky, where her father was interested in astronomy and geology. In the book, Sarah describes a trip to Arizona with her father where she got to look through medium range telescopes, and it made a more personal connection with the solar system than with huge telescopes where she views images on a computer screen.
Sarah has worked on Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers, looking for the signatures of chemical compounds that might indicate life or the possibility of life, in the past or present. Her writing is accessible, enthusiastic, and lyrical. Clearly, including the Perseverance rover due to land on Mars next February, there are many more observations to make, and more discoveries to come. The author dreams of finding microscopic signs of life on Mars, or on the moons of Jupiter or Saturn, including Titan, Enceladus, and Europa.
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