The Banyan Trees of Mars

Sir Arthur C. Clarke's minority view.
An old man looking at a vintage globe

Clarke believes plants grow in the Red Planet's southern hemisphere. Photo by: Dilip Mehta

“I’m now convinced that Mars
is inhabited by a race of demented landscape gardeners,” Sir Arthur C. Clarke announced recently.

The author of 2001: A Space Odyssey was only half-joking. He claims that an image produced by the Mars Global Surveyor satellite shows “large areas of vegetation . . . like banyan trees.” Most experts dismiss the idea. But Popular Science loves a free thinker, especially one as talented and charming as Sir Arthur. We questioned him in Sri Lanka via e-mail.

Popular Science What makes you so confident there is life on Mars?

Arthur C. Clarke The image is so striking that there is no need to say anything about it — it’s obviously vegetation to any unbiased eye.

PS What about animal life?

AC If there is vegetation, it seems probable there are other life-forms as well.

PS Few experts agree with you.

AC Remember how a certain Astronomer Royal said that space flight was ‘utter bilge’?

(Indeed, Richard van der Reit Wooley said so in 1956 — Ed.) But they are right to be cautious — we still don’t have 100 percent proof. I think it’s in the high nineties!

PS Why are you so passionate about this?

AC Because nothing could be more important than the discovery of other life-forms. It’s getting lonely down here.