- This event has passed.
- July 14, 2020
- Event Category:
- Author Events
presenting The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World
in conversation with DEBORAH BLUM
Harvard Book Store’s virtual event series, the Harvard University Division of Science, and the Cabot Science Library welcome SARAH STEWART JOHNSON—an assistant professor of planetary science at Georgetown University—for a discussion of her book The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World. She will be joined in conversation by Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist and author DEBORAH BLUM.
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About The Sirens of Mars
Mars was once similar to Earth, but today there are no rivers, no lakes, no oceans. Coated in red dust, the terrain is bewilderingly empty. And yet multiple spacecraft are circling Mars, sweeping over Terra Sabaea, Syrtis Major, the dunes of Elysium, and Mare Sirenum—on the brink, perhaps, of a staggering find, one that would inspire humankind as much as any discovery in the history of modern science.
In this beautifully observed, deeply personal book, Georgetown scientist Sarah Stewart Johnson tells the story of how she and other researchers have scoured Mars for signs of life, transforming the planet from a distant point of light into a world of its own.
Johnson’s fascination with Mars began as a child in Kentucky, turning over rocks with her father and looking at planets in the night sky. She now conducts fieldwork in some of Earth’s most hostile environments, such as the Dry Valleys of Antarctica and the salt flats of Western Australia, developing methods for detecting life on other worlds. Here, with poetic precision, she interlaces her own personal journey—as a female scientist and a mother—with tales of other seekers, from Percival Lowell, who was convinced that a utopian society existed on Mars, to Audouin Dollfus, who tried to carry out astronomical observations from a stratospheric balloon. In the process, she shows how the story of Mars is also a story about Earth: This other world has been our mirror, our foil, a telltale reflection of our own anxieties and yearnings.
Empathetic and evocative, The Sirens of Mars offers an unlikely natural history of a place where no human has ever set foot, while providing a vivid portrait of our quest to defy our isolation in the cosmos.
Praise for The Sirens of Mars
“This elegantly crafted book describes humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet and conveys what it’s like to be a young scientist involved in the quest to discover more.” —Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and author of On the Future: Prospects for Humanity
“Poetically written, superb in its scene setting and storytelling, majestic in its vision, The Sirens of Mars will give readers a new appreciation for the preciousness of life in the cosmos.” —Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams
“The Sirens of Mars provides the prospect of great discovery, the future of space science, and an introduction to a writer of the first rank.” —Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University