Friday 1st October 2021 at 7.30 pm on Zoom and at the BRLSI

Life on Mars? A Short History of 19th-Century Exploration of the Red Planet

Dr Joshua Nall
Curator of Modern Sciences at the University of Cambridge’s Whipple Museum of the History of Science

Image: (c) Whipple Museum, University of Cambridge (Wh. 6211)

Humans have long been intrigued by the possibility that Mars might harbour life. Planetary scientists nowadays continue to hunt for evidence of it, and space technologists even advocate settling ourselves there permanently. These are bold projects, and in this talk I suggest that we look back before we look forward, to consider how humans studied and thought about Mars before the Space Age. Investigating 19th-century arguments over whether the red planet was teeming with intelligent life, and exploring fantastical stories about what that life might do to us, reveal important lessons, I will argue, for how we understand the next century of Martian exploration.

Joshua Nall is Curator of Modern Sciences at the University of Cambridge’s Whipple Museum of the History of Science. He is an historian of 19th- and 20th-century astronomy and physics with a particular interest in empires and extraterrestrials. His book, News from Mars: Mass Media and the Forging of a New Astronomy, 1860–1910 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019) won the History of Science Society’s 2020 Philip J. Pauly Prize for the best first book on the history of science in the Americas.

Book tickets here.