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Interpreting Life on Mars: Scientific Data and Popular Knowledge

SISP 143
Spring 2011
Section: 01  
Crosslisting: E&ES 143, HIST 143
Course Cluster: Planetary Science

Few objects of scientific importance can match Mars for sustained public interest on an international scale. From 1609, when Galileo first viewed Mars, to the present day viewer interest in NASA Mars image data on the web, a significant part of the public's fascination with Mars has related to its potential as an abode for intelligent life. But why and where did the idea of life on Mars originate? What scientific evidence has been advanced in favor and against the idea of life on Mars? How is Mars evidence used by scientific communities, funding bodies, and creators of popular literature and cinema? Instructors will use selected case studies from the history of observations and interpretations of Mars as a starting point for exploring the definition of scientific method, the nature of scientific practice and the relations between science and the public. Laboratory work will include mapmaking exercises, telescopic observations and the examination of rocks and soils that give students a practical understanding of the work done in planetary observation. Students will read and discuss primary historical documents to gain knowledge of the varying themes and economic contexts of Mars research, from 1600 to today. Life on Mars has been the subject of popularization efforts and mass media, from H. G. Wells' popular "War of the Worlds" (1898); Percival Lowell's "Mars as the Abode of Life" (1908); to films, including "A Trip to Mars" (1910) produced by Thomas Edison, to "Aelita: The Queen of Mars" (1924) and the many science fiction films during the Space Age. We will explore the nature and significance of these and other cultural representations of Mars in order to understand better how public perceptions of science are integral to scientific practice, and how scientists are transforming our understanding of the planet's history and habitability.

Essential Capabilities: Interpretation
Will examine how data from Mars are interpreted and influenced by popular culture.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: SBS SISP
Course Format: Lecture / DiscussionGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: None
Past Enrollment Probability: Not Available

Last Updated on SEP-24-2023
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