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A less alien Mars, a nobler Earth

20 Sep 2013, 15:30 UTC
A less alien Mars, a nobler Earth
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

I wrote this column for Intelligent Life, The Economist's sister magazine, at around the time that MSL/Curiosity took off last year. In setting the scene for the landing, and the new phase of Mars exploration that comes with it, it also serves as a precis and update of some of the thermes of Mapping Mars (Amazon UK|US):

Mars to within a metre
It is a desert plain, caramel-smooth and windswept-empty. To its north rises a mountain taller than Mont Blanc, Mount Rainier or Fuji-san and though, because it is also wider, its sides are less steep and prospects less dramatic, it is still an impressive thing. A massive central shoulder, banded with rocks of different ages, juts out over the plain; to its side, the mountain’s forest-free flanks are cut with canyons. The summit—whittled away by the wind but a stranger to snow—sits farther back, hidden from view. Both plain and mountain are ringed by a wall four kilometres high and almost 500 kilometres long, the rim of a crater the size of Wales. Above the landscape is a washed-out, alien sky. At the right time of year, the Earth hangs over that horizon-rim at twilight, a blueish evening star. ...

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