Chapter 5 - Living in the Solar System

Chapter 5
        Straddling the Earth in space, they subvert stereotypes of history and culture. The God of War is tranquil, its geologically dead surface seen through a thin veil of atmosphere. The permafrost may hold traces of ancient life. But the Goddess of Love is a toxic nightmare of volcanoes, a bone-crushing, lethal atmosphere, and a surface temperature that would melt lead.
        Mars of the imagination. Embedded in myth and legend, Mars is the Jungian archetype of our darker side. Lowell saw the surface markings and conjured up a dying race bringing polar water to the barren equatorial region. Young Orson Welles caused a mini-exodus with a reality-style radio broadcast that the Martians were arriving with ill intent. In comics and science fiction Mars is a timeless, windswept place of lost dreams. Mars of the real. Two intrepid rovers, little bigger than Tonka toys, roam across the rugged terrain, exciting kids who find Mars exploration as familiar as a video game. A small armada of spacecraft is headed there to map the surface and test the soil for biology. The muscular projection of humans off Earth has us greening the red planet and creating a bolt hole or a new world for visionaries and explorers.
        Venus of the imagination. It regards us balefully like a small milky eye, the brightest object of the dusk and dawn sky, the crux of Mayan cosmology. In popular culture it spawns lurid fantasies of fabulous space women—the pulp fiction would raise the pulse of any teenager. In reality Venus is a bad dream from an inner circle of Hell. We raced with the Russians to reach it first, but probe after probe crashed and burned; only on the 20th attempt did one send back 20 minutes of data before sighing, and dying. Three billion years ago Mars, Venus and the Earth may have been equally habitable but now Venus stands in admonition of what happens if we let global warming run amok. We have been warned.
        The old light bulbs are metaphors for growth and energy, containment and eventual death. From within, the heat of radioactivity powers a planet. The slender sheath of atmosphere protects us from the harshness of space debris and cosmic rays. Around the light of a star, the habitable zone may be razor-thin. Perhaps our pale blue dot is the Goldilocks planet. Perhaps all planets live and die—biospheres come and go, and this is just our time in the Sun.

About the Artist

Heather Green is a graduate student in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona and a second generation Tucsonan. Her current work is informed by her lifelong relationship with the headland of La Cholla near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, a passion for old science books, and her love of the natural world. She has designed exhibits about sustainable fisheries and materials for conservation initiatives, and is currently developing a virtual museum about La Cholla.

Chapter 5

Living in the Solar System

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