• Jack McDevitt

Blog #64

In 1940, science fiction showed up in my life in a Flash Gordon movie serial. I moved on to the books and magazines a few years later as soon as I learned to read. Many of the tales in those years took readers to Mars and Venus. They were set, as best I can recall, two decades later, around 1965. The result was that I grew up assuming that I’d easily live long enough to witness the discovery of extraterrestrial life, and moreover to see us establish a colony on Mars. Venus was a disappointment because, even though writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs provided novels about heroic humans traveling to what we supposed was a jungle world, it turned out that Venus was brutally hot. It was quickly written off as a place of interest.

Mars gradually faded too. Automated missions found nothing, and there seemed neither a reason nor the technology to attempt a manned flight. Other places were too far and too cold. I switched my interest to SETI. Surely, when we started listening for incoming radio transmissions, we’d hear something. But over the years that too delivered no results. I would never have believed that, twenty years into the next century, we would have left footprints nowhere except on the Moon, and then forgotten how to get there. Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein expected more.

But we might be living in the ultimate historic moment. News is breaking today that we may have discovered life on Venus. Not intelligent beings, but microbes. Okay, we’ll take what we can get. There’s an element in the Venusian atmosphere, phosphine, that, as far as we know, is only produced by microbes that have no access to oxygen. The discovery was made by a scientific team using the James Clerk Maxwell telescope on Hawaii. It’s been confirmed by other telescopes. The story was apparently broken by the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

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