“History and Mars?” you say.

   How can such topics fit into the same post?


 To see how, you’ll have use the






FLASH:  We Never See the Present


   Mars is the next planet beyond Earth¹ and, because both planets not going at the same speed in the same orbit, the distance between them varies between 55 million kilometers to 225 million kilometers. But because, except for the Moon, Mars is the closest heavenly body out there, there’s talk of sending people to Mars and establishing an “unearthly” community there.

   What is Mars like?

   We’ll never know what Mars “is” like.

   But we we can tell what it was like.

   Here’s why: Pictures sent from there to here, will tell us what Mars was like 1 minute ago, 12 minutes ago, or somewhere in-between depending upon how far we are away from each other in space. Pictures from objects in space are always pictures of what they once were. Two persons in a conversation will have at least 2 minutes or as much as 24 minutes to wait to, say, ask a question and receive an answer. This is because radio waves travel at the speed of light–300,000,000² meters/second–and communicating humans have to wait for pictures and words to travel to humans far away.

   But this example illustrates something stranger.

   An astronomer is always measuring history! When an observer of the sky talks about is just pictured and recorded–whether, planet, star, or galaxy–there’s no guarantee that the object is still there. But it once was.

   To go further, when we look at the sun, we never see what it is, but what it was about 8 minutes ago. Even with the much closer Moon, which we usually view with the naked eye, we’re just seeing what it was a split second ago.

   Let’s get a bit spookier:

   We never see, or hear for that matter, anything that “is”! We see something as it was a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of a second ago. And why? Light shining on a tree outside my window tells me that the tree is about 15 ft. away. We know that the reflected green light from the tree has to get to my eye. The rods and cones in my eye receive this information that informs my brain that the tree is–or technically was– there. This is so fast that practically speaking, the tree is there. So technically I’m not wrong. Practically speaking, I’m not lying.

   But to be a bit geeky: As I write these words, I stare outside at a downy woodpecker hammering away at a “caged” suet cake just beyond my window. A calm lake surface stretches across the water to a row of docks and cottages backed by tall maples displaying the first colors of Fall.

   I still have it before my eyes. I am refreshed and strengthened by the beautiful world that was. Scientists and ordinary folk are hard at work studying and enjoying the past…


   ¹ Regardless of who may disagree, I always capitalize “Earth,” and “Moon” when they refer to heavenly bodies. If Jupiter, Mars, Emryss, and Elphia (the last two, planets in my novels) get caps, so should they.

   ² Five things should be said about this awkward placing of the number of this footnote: (1) Please don’t square 300,000,000! The “2″ is a note. (2) I couldn’t put it after “second” because it could be interpreted as “second squared.” (3) Realize that 300,000,000 m (meters) is the same as 300, 000 km (kilometers). (4) In case you’ve forgotten, 1 mi = about 1.6 km. (5) The speed of light is (about) 300,000,000 m/s or 300,000 km/s. That’s pretty fast.