Mars: The New Evidence

The Universe
Season 5
8 episodes
See below for purchasing options
DVD & Blu-ray
"The Universe" episode no. 58 (season 5)
  • written and directed by James Grant Goldin
  • edited by Kevin Browne

  • narrated by Erik Thompson
  • Main Title Theme and Original Music by Eric Amdahl
  • Flight 33 Productions, (c) 2010 A & E TV Networks
  • 1 documentary @ 44 minutes

Data Capsule Review

by Martin Izsak

Early sections are a bit frustrating in watching the scientists try to think how life could form in Mars' current condition, rather than the conditions that might have existed long ago.

Things pick up as the documentary recounts the five probes getting information from Mars, and details them being joined by the sixth probe Phoenix as it lands in 2008 near the frozen north polar region. We also get a good idea of how mission specialists deal with the time delay in communicating with probes on the surface, sending packets of instructions at a time to the robots, and receiving data and results much later, wondering if the robot made it through all the instructions okay, or if it encountered a glitch or unexpected circumstance at some point.

Highlights include evidence that suggests liquid water may exist on the surface during certain unique events (in contradiction of suspected atmospheric pressure requirements), the slight conditional debunking of some conclusions drawn from the 1970's Viking mission, and that one of three explanations for the existence of surface methane might indicate sub-surface life. The four suspected major geological phases of Mars are also described in fairly good detail.

Alex Filippenko seems to be the strongest voice of control propaganda in this one, which turns his usual smile quite creepy, and makes me wonder WHY we need to assume there is no life until proven otherwise. Would we not act more respectfully towards solar system environments if we assumed there is life until proven otherwise? (In fact perhaps this is the case in our attitude towards Jupiter's moon Europa, as we have so far been very careful to eliminate all possibilities of contaminating its atmosphere with any of our probes, while having carelessly smashed probes into many other bodies in the solar system.)

But looking past that caveat of extreme scientific doubt dominating the documentary's voice, there is a lot of interesting new raw information in this episode, and good coverage on how scientists interpret their findings and come up with new questions to ask about Mars.

Narrator: "Even as some scientists are claiming Mars doesn't have lightning, Earth-based microwave detectors find it in friction-filled storms of red dust."

And the "Ask the Universe" question for this episode is... "What makes part of one planet fly off and land on another?"
- Kristina M., Dallas, Texas.

from the disc sleeve:

Mars: The New Evidence:
In the last few years, the Red Planet has yielded many clues that life may once have existed on Mars - and may exist there today. Most intriguing of all though, are the seasonal plumes of methane that may point to bacteria living below the surface.

Chapter List:

  • Searching for Life
  • Water on Mars
  • Shaping of Mars
  • Meteorite Clues
  • Martian Methane

Participants include:

Jim Bell

Cornell University

Bruce Betts

The Planetary Society

Laura Danly

Curator of the
Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

Ashwin Vasavada

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratories

Linda T. Elkins-Tanton


Clifford Johnson

University of Southern California

Alex Filippenko

Astronomer, supernova hunter
University of California, Berkeley

regular science consultant to
"The Universe" series.

Benjamin Weiss


Miguel San Martin

Steven Lee

James Montgomery

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratories

This documentary has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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The Universe
Season 5 Box Set
8 episodes



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Read the data capsule review for another episode: "Time Travel"

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