My version of the so called ‘Mars flower’ (Illustration: Mayank Chhaya)
Reading media reports about NASA’s ‘Curiosity’ rover finding a white flowerlike object on Mars,it appears to me that our collective minds are primed to see things familiar and comforting.
The so-called ‘Mars flower’ (Contrast and brightness changed by me on Earth to make it more distinct)
Personally, if we have gone through the enormous trouble to travel hundreds of millions of kilometers spending $2.5 billion, I think we should keep our benchmark a little higher. I know that the existence of a single flower signals not just a single flower but the possibilities of a whole ecology that is needed to support its existence. The logic seems to be that if there are flowers, can bees be far behind and if there are bees can more complex life forms be so improbable? And if there are more complex life forms, would it be too much to expect Martian senators and representatives also fiercely debating whether or not they should go off their fiscal cliff? Their financial year would be 1.88 times longer than our because the planet orbits around the Sun much slower than us. That means they have a longer time to engage in political skullduggery.
My point is every time something akin to the Mars flower is reported, we betray such predictable predisposition towards what we want it to be. I am glad so far I have not heard someone say that the particular image, which seems like a rocky outcrop, looks like a kernel of corn in the process of popping. They might then say if there is popcorn, can a movie theater be too much to expect?
The Mars flower also looks like a Styrofoam peanut of the kind you see used as a packing material. Can we then extrapolate it to say that if Styrofoam peanut is there, can FedEx be far behind?
Plants and flowers are known to grow from what would otherwise seem like a very unlikely, if not altogether hostile, environment on Earth. Check out this image below, cropped from a larger photo by friend and excellent Mumbai-based news photographer Chandu Mhatre, for instance. In this brick wall held together by concrete you can see little plants sprouting randomly. Of course, the abundance of water and just the right kind of sunlight plays a crucial role in this flora taking hold on a brick wall. Nevertheless, it is not a place where one would normally expect any plants. Seeds have many different ways of spreading on our planet and planting themselves in odd places.
Cropped from a photo by Chandu Mhatre (www.chandumhatre.com)
Coming back to the Mars flower, it could well be a flower. We don’t know yet. If it does turn out to be a flower, can we please quickly mine its fragrance and somehow bring it back here? Let the new fragrance be called ‘Yellowknife’ because it was found in the Yellowknife Bay.