It's not internet trolls who are obsessed with aliens. Apparently congressmen are too.
During a hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Tuesday, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher managed to baffle and amaze when he asked about life on Mars.
And no, we're not talking microbial life — something that NASA is hoping to hunt for with future missions to Mars. We're talking full-blown civilizations.
"You have indicated that Mars had a, was totally different thousands of years ago," the California congressman said, addressing a panel of space science experts.
"Was it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?"
Ever the trooper, Kenneth Farley — NASA Mars 2020 rover project scientist — had to start off his answer by correcting Rohrabacher's question.
"So, the evidence is that Mars was different billions of years ago, not thousands of years ago," Farley said.
He also added that "there is no evidence that I'm aware of —" before the congressman cut him off, refining his original question.
"Would you rule that out? That — see, there are some people — well, anyway," Rohrabacher said.
Farley answered: "I would say that is extremely unlikely."
This whole exchange is kind of beautiful. You have a congressman with a penchant for some off-kilter ideas asking a straight-ahead scientist about alien civilizations on Mars.
Also, Rohrabacher even starts talking about "some people" as evidence for his thoughts about civilizations on Mars. Who are these people? Can they be trusted? (Probably not.)
The exchange takes place one hour and 25 minutes into the video below.
Rohrabacher's question is somewhat grounded in reality, at least.
Mars was a far warmer and wetter place billions of years ago than it is today. The red planet appears to have had liquid water on its surface — making it a possible home for microbial life — before it lost its atmosphere to space.
That doesn't mean there was any kind of civilization on Mars, however. Multiple rovers and orbiters that have explored the planet have found no evidence of past intelligent life on the world. (I mean, you'd think that Martians would have at least left behind some buildings or something.)
Funny enough, scientists in the 1800s thought there were artificially-made canals on Mars because of a mistranslation of one of Giovanni Schiaparelli's works.
The Italian astronomer called channels on the red planet "canali," which means "channel." However, that was mistranslated to "canal" in English, which implies that they were built by intelligent life, according to NASA.
From there, the myth of the intelligent Martian took off, especially after Percival Lowell observed and mapped the "canals," which he believed were carved into the landscape by smart aliens, in the late 1800s.
Of course, scientists know that isn't the case today, yet still, sometimes they just need to debunk it for a congressman.
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