Photo: Barkhanes in the Crater Zone, LAT: -41.5° LONG: 44.6°; from This Is Mars (Aperture, 2017).
Mars: The Red Planet. The earth’s twin. The shadow that lurks in our imagination looms larger with every passing year. Fifty years ago, the world set its sights on putting the first man on the moon. Today, science dreams of the day when we will reach the planet named for the God of War.
Extensive investigations are well underway, mapping the terrain of Mars to see if it would be hospitable to life in the event of disaster here on earth. On March 16, Peruvian scientist David Ramirez announced that potatoes could be grown on conditions that simulate the environment of Mars. Last November, NASA reported the discovery of a large amount of underground ice estimated to be equivalent to the volume of water in Lake Superior.
At just 238.9 million miles from earth, NASA estimates it would take a vessel with human on it just six months to make the trek through outer space. Last September, Wired reported that Jeff Bezos and his company, Blue Origin, are now working to create rockets that could send the first people to Mars. What seems like science fiction is slowly becoming fact as scientists focus their efforts on colonizing a new planet.
But for those of us who are unlikely to make the trip but still would love to see it up close and personal, Aperture releases This Is Mars: Midi Edition this month. Edited and designed by Xavier Barral, the book features 150 black and white images of the planet’s extraordinary surface taken by the U.S. observation satellite MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) made over the past decade.
This Is Mars takes readers on a fantastic voyage across the planet, giving us a look at landscape of this fabled realm. As Barral writes in the book’s preface, “According to Victor Hugo, a landscape is a kind of writing, at the origin of the alphabet as well as of images: every letter was at first a sign, and each sign was at first an image. These places and reliefs can be read as a series of hieroglyphs that take us back to our origins.”
Through the MRO, we discover a world that is as foreign as it is familiar. Like a twin, the resemblance is uncanny, yet all its own. We see a planet that possesses traits we know: water, lava, mountains, sand dunes, craters, frost, dust, rocks, and ravines—but the ways in which these elements manifest themselves is truly Martian.
The photographs selected for This Is Mars are a beauty to behold, a study of existence that is simultaneously realistic and abstract. Each photograph is a piece of the whole, taken out of its element to speak for itself. The texts by Alfred S. McEwen, Francis Racard, and Nicholas Mangold help put these pieces together so that we may begin to understand the processes of evolution that shaped the surface of Mars over billions of years.
This Is Mars is an incredible study of the planet’s ecological, meteorological, and topographic histories. At the heart of these studies are the questions that burn deep in the hearts of our species: Can Mars sustain life? Does life currently exist? Was there ever any life on Mars? Are we alone in the universe?
There may be more than one way to find out, as it seems that the more we dream up science fiction fantasies, the more we fuel the quest for understanding of life itself. As Einstein observed in 1929, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
All photos: © Nasa/JPL/The University of Arizona
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.