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Why Mars as a Backup Planet Isn't a Good Idea

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Why Mars as a Backup Planet Isn't a Good Idea

You've probably heard the rallying cry: "There is no planet B." But maybe you are thinking Mars could make a nice new home if Earth becomes uninhabitable. If so, you should spend the next six minutes watching astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz's TED Talk.

Walkowicz, who works on NASA's Kepler mission, which has discovered thousands of potential life-supporting planets, believes "we're at a tipping point in human history." She says we're a "species poised between gaining the stars and losing the planet we call home."

She worries that “this excitement about colonizing mars and other planets carries with it a long dark shadow: the implication and belief by some that Mars will be there to save us from the self-inflicted destruction of the only truly habitable planet we know of—the Earth."

"As much as I love interplanetary exploration, I deeply disagree with this idea," she continued. “There are many excellent reasons to go to Mars, but for anyone to tell you that Mars will be there to back up humanity is like the captain of the Titanic telling you the real party is happening later on the lifeboats."

Walkowicz suggested that we stop dreaming of Mars as a place that we'll eventually move to when we've messed up Earth and to start thinking of planetary exploration and preservation of the Earth as two sides of the same goal. "The more you look for planets like Earth, the more you appreciate our own planet," she explained.

Watch Walkowicz TED Talk here:

The Forest Vixen's CC Photo Stream. Flickr / CC BY 2.0


Spring is coming. And soon, tree swallows will start building nests. But as the climate changes, the birds are nesting earlier in the spring.


"It's getting warmer overall. They're thinking, OK, it's a good time to breed, to lay my eggs," says Lily Twining of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany.

She says that despite recent warming, late-season cold snaps remain common. Those cold snaps can harm newborn chicks.

Hatchlings cannot regulate their body temperature, so they are vulnerable to hypothermia. And the insects they eat stop flying in cold weather, potentially leaving the chicks to starve.

"These chicks are growing very, very fast," Twining says. "They have very high energy demands, so… if they don't get a lot of that good high-quality food during this pretty specific time… that's when these cold weather events seem to be most devastating."

For example, data from Ithaca, New York, shows that a single cold snap in 2016 killed more than 70% of baby tree swallows.

"And there have been more and more of these severe cold weather die-off events for these tree swallows as they've been breeding earlier and earlier over the past 40 or so years," Twining says.

So for these songbirds, earlier springs can come with devastating consequences.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy / ChavoBart Digital Media

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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