Chapter 1

I. As a Star

Once in about every fifteen years a startling visitant makes his appearance upon our midnight skies,-- a great red star that rises at sunset through the haze about the eastern horizon, and then, mounting higher with the deepening night, blazes forth against the dark background of space with a splendor that outshines Sirius and rivals the giant Jupiter himself. Startling for its size, the stranger looks the more fateful for being a fiery red. Small wonder that by many folk it is taken for a portent. Certainly, no one who had not followed in their courses what the Greeks so picturesquely called "the wanderers" (hoi planetai) would recognize in the apparition an orderly member of our own solar family. Nevertheless, one of the wanderers it is, for that star is the planet Mars, large because for the moment near, having in due course again been overtaken by the Earth, in her swifter circling about the Sun, at that point in space where his orbit and hers make their closest approach.

Although the apparent new-comer is neither new nor intrinsically great, he possesses for us an interest out of all proportion to his size or his relative importance in the universe; and this for two reasons : first, because he is of our own cosmic kin; and secondly, because no other heavenly body, Venus and the Moon alone excepted, ever approaches us so near. What is more, we see him at such times better than we ever do Venus, for the latter, contrary to what her name might lead one to expect, keeps her self so constantly cloaked in cloud that we are permitted only the most meagre peeps at her actual surface; while Mars, on the other hand, lets us see him as he is, no cloud-veil of his, as a rule, hiding him from view. He thus offers us opportunities for study at closer range than does any other body in the universe except the Moon. And the Moon balks inquiry at the outset. For that body, from which we might hope to learn much, appears upon inspection to be, cosmically speaking, dead. Upon her silent surface next to nothing now takes place save for the possible crumbling in of a crater wall. For all practical purposes Mars is our nearest neighbor in space. Of all the orbs about us, therefore, he holds out most promise of response to that question which man instinctively makes as he gazes up at the stars: What goes on upon all those distant globes? Are they worlds, or are they mere masses of matter? Are physical forces alone at work there, or has evolution begotten something more complex, something not unakin to what we know on Earth as life? It is in this that lies the peculiar interest of Mars.

That just as there are other masses of matter than our globe, so there are among them other worlds than ours is an instant and inevitable inference from what we see about us. That we are the only part of the cosmos possessing what we are pleased to call mind is so earth-centred a supposition, that it recalls the other earth-centred view once so devoutly held, that our little globe was the point about which the whole company of heaven was good enough to turn. Indeed, there was much more reason to think that then, than to think this now, for there was at least the appearance of turning, whereas there is no indication that we are sole denizens of all we survey, and every inference that we are not.

That we are in some wise kin to all the rest of the cosmos, science has been steadily demonstrating more and more clearly. The essential oneness of the universe is the goal to which all learning tends. Just as Newton proved all the planets to obey a common force, the Sun; just as Laplace showed it to be probable that we were all evolved from one and the same primal nebula; so more recently the spectroscope has revealed unsuspected relationship betwixt us and the stars. Matter turns out to be but common property; and the very same substances with which we are so familiar on the Earth, iron, magnesium, sodium, and so forth, prove present on those far-off suns that strew the depths of space. Only in detail does everything differ.

So much for matter. As for that manifestation of it known as mind, modesty, if not intelligence, forbids the thought that we are sole thinkers in all we see. Indeed, we seldom stop in our locally engrossing pursuits to realize how small the part we play in the universal drama. Let us consider for a moment how we should appear, or, more exactly, not appear, could we get off our world and scan it from without. If distance could thus reduce for us the scale upon which the universe is fashioned to one we could take in, that on which the Earth should be represented by a good-sized pea, with a grain of mustard seed, the Moon, circling about it at a distance of seven inches, the Sun would be a globe two feet in

  By PanEris using Melati.

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