In 2018 the European Space Agency announced that their subsurface radar had discovered what they thought was a lake on Mars. It was about 20 Kilometers across and beneath 1.5 kilometers of ice at the South Pole of Mars. This discovery set off media speculations about creatures living in the lake that could be similar to the deep sea creatures in Earth’s oceans.
A study in the July 16, 2021, issue of Geophysical Research Letters does not support the lake on Mars. It turns out that the radar images were mirages caused by either clay minerals or frozen brine. Furthermore, the proposed lake was at the South Pole, making it even more unlikely that it is a water lake.
We learn several lessons from this incident. The first is that you cannot rely on news of sensational scientific discoveries in the popular media. They are interested in anything that will attract readers or viewers. The original report by the European agency gave data and made one possible explanation of what their data showed. Science, unlike religion, has built-in methods to explore whether a proposal is reasonable. In other words, it is self-correcting. Changes in religious understanding usually result in name-calling and polarization.
The second point is that we often interpret research data in terms of what we see on Earth. For example, the original radar data did not show just one possible lake on Mars. Other researchers have pointed out many radar plots like the one detected by the European satellite detected. Scientists speculated that this could be a lake because they have detected lakes deep in the Earth where pressure and volcanic activity keep the water in a liquid state.
The possibility of a lake on Mars is not a biblical issue. However, this incident does give us insight into the workings of research in astronomy and how the media report it. The more we learn about Mars, the more we realize what a wonderful place Earth is. While Mars has a few conditions similar to those on Earth that allow life to exist, other Martian parameters would not support life. The unique design of planet Earth becomes more apparent as we study Mars and other objects in space.
— John N. Clayton © 2021
References: Geophysical Research Letters July 16, 2021, and Science News, August 14, 2021 page 8.