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Looking back at the future

3 October 2017

I read a short but interesting piece on the ScienceDaily website today.

Apparently, scientists now believe that the planet Mars once had a dense atmosphere and seas of liquid water at some time in its past.

According to the article, the presence of this dense atmosphere and the oceans that this supported may have existed as little as four billion years ago.

The question the article asks is "where did that atmosphere go and why?"

But that's not the question I would like answered.

I have a much more interesting question.

I want to know if Venus and Mars are warnings to us here on Earth as to what might go wrong if we, or some other external force, disturb the delicate balance of our environment.

According to what I've read, both Mars and Venus were far more Earth-like than they are today.

For whatever reason, Venus has become a scorching example of the greenhouse effect run amok. The result is a planet which has become like a greenhouse, trapping a huge percentage of the energy that reaches it from the sun and causing surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead.

Where did those blue skies and warm oceans go and why?

Meanwhile, back on Mars, we have a ice planet which has lots its greenhouse capabilities when its atmosphere decided to waft off into the vacuum of space. Much of the sun's heat is simply reflected back into space and daytime surface temperatures at the equator are still well below zero. Nearer the poles, Mars is so cold that even the trace amounts of CO2 in its wispy atmosphere are turned into dry ice.

So here we sit on our little blue sphere with portents of doom to the left and the right so should we be investing more time, effort and money to find out exactly what we can do to avoid a similar fate?

Odds are that we're in our "lucky period" right now where, just like Goldilocks, things aren't too cold and they aren't too hot -- but how much longer will this last?

In the universe, the only constant is change and eventually Earth will swing one way or the other. Of course if that change is due to a solar event or some other natural phenomenon then we will simply be powerless to do anything about it -- but in the short to medium term it might pay us to be a little more careful with this fragile orb we call home.

Perhaps I've read too much scifi but I can't help wondering if Mars wasn't once the home to an advanced civilization that either destroyed itself through neglect of its environment or was destroyed by some natural planet-wide catastrophe. If so, imagine the relics that may still remain, just waiting to be discovered under the Martian sands or deep inside some well-protected underground cavern.

Forget about finding life on Mars... I want to see if there used to be life and if so, exactly what form it took and what we could learn from its mistakes.

What a shame that none of this groundbreaking exploration will occur during my lifetime.

What do readers think?

Could the secret to our future survival lie buried in the sands of Mars?

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