It came from outer space and all that, but's what's so big about fossilized bait?

August 09, 1996|By MIKE LITTWIN

THE MARTIANS HAVE landed, which should be a terrific story. I mean, we've been waiting for Martians to show up even longer than we've been waiting for Bob Dole to pick a running mate.

The problem is that the emigre Martians -- I just hope they don't try to send their kids to our schools -- are a little, well, disappointing.

To tell you the truth, I haven't been this disappointed since the Monkees got back together.

Like most of you, I try to avoid preconceived notions about people -- I'm even willing to give Jack Kemp a chance. But my standards for Martians are pretty high. I was counting on at least five arms. And if there's only one eye, it's got to be Cyclopsian. According to all the available literature, any space creature worth the name should be ready to terrorize our women and kidnap our children and, of course, dance the Macarena.

In my fevered imaginings, the Martians would come to earth for the usual reasons, because their planet is running out of either oxygen or Starbucks coffee.

What do we get instead?

We get worms.

Oooh, scary.

Not even real worms, but dead worms. Not even dead worms, but fossils of dead worms grated onto an old rock. Actually, micro-fossils of worm-like bacteria so small they make a paramecium look the size of Bill Clinton's jogging shorts.

You excited yet? Like we don't have plenty of microscopic worm-like bacteria of our own.

The thing about worms, and especially fossils of worms, is that they don't cause panic in the streets. Worm-like bacteria are not likely to pilot spaceships. And the last I looked, the White House has not been laid to waste.

Instead, these Martians get here by piggy-backing on a 4.5 billion-year-old rock, which purportedly was tossed from Mars and landed in Antarctica about 13 million years ago. Yeah, right.

And instead of panic, there's a NASA press conference in which a bunch of scientists are saying this is the happiest day of their lonely lives. Carl Sagan, who hasn't been heard from since Carson went off the air, says this discovery could be a "turning point in human history."

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton is calling for a "space summit" for November, apparently in search of something for Al Gore to do during a second term.

And that's it. That's the entire invasion.

All buildup -- all Red Planet hype -- and no payoff.

What in the name of Ziggy Stardust is the big deal here? I feel like I must be missing something. Is the suggestion that there might have been micro-microbes on Mars 4.5 billion years ago such an enormous discovery?

Or is this just NASA angling for some publicity in order to squeeze out a few more interplanetary missions?

OK, maybe I'm not being open-minded here. Maybe there is something to this Mars thing. As you may have noticed, there have been some strange phenomena of late, phenomena that cannot be easily explained away.

For instance:

On the day of the announcement, America Online mysteriously shut down for 19 hours.

Just days before, a new book was released suggesting that Richard Nixon was actually a nice guy.

And, yes, there was the recent introduction of the Macarena to a vulnerable world-wide Olympic audience.

Coincidence? You tell me.

The folks out in Roswell, N.M., sure don't think so.

In Roswell, this potato-sized rock with the tiny microbes is seen as a vindication.

In Roswell, hard by UFO Highway, where 50 years ago something big fell from the sky -- maybe a UFO. The government says it thinks it was a weather balloon (wink, wink). Many in Roswell believe the government is hiding something, which has led to the construction of two UFO museums in the town. And 75,000 visitors come each year.

The curator of one of the museums says this discovery shows that he was on to something, like, maybe that a spaceship left Mars 4.5 billion years ago and got here just in time to try to save America by heading off the next generation: the baby boomers.

Well, those Martians failed.

And it's no wonder, if they were just a bunch of bacteria.

My guess is not that the government was covering this up. If anyone did, it would be Hollywood. Now that the word is out about extra-terrestrials, it looks like it might be nothing to phone home about.

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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