In July 1986 the Viking I lander touched down on the surface of Mars. It was a remarkable achievement and like any tourist the lander soon started taking taking snaps to show to it's friends back home. The cameras on the lander were state of the art technology and had been carefully calibrated to give the truest pictures possible. The trouble was that they had been calibrated here on Earth using the sky as a base colour as the scientists had wrongly reckoned that sky is sky, is sky. They really should have known better, but they didn't until an eagle-eyed technician spotted that the lander had not been as careful with it's composition as it might have been and had allowed one of it's own wires to stray into one of the shots. Nothing remarkable about that you might think, I'm sure that at some point or another we've all made similar mistakes. Well what was remarkable was that the technician noticed that the colour of the wire was wrong. When they recalibrated the camera based on the colour of the wire they found that the sky on Mars is not blue as it is on Earth, but has a pale red tinge (though not as red as the images we are usually shown).
Fast forward 23 years and a young man who had watched Viking intently on the television is now untertaking a little journey of his own. Not one nearly as adventurous or exciting. Just a little train trip of forty miles or so (60km?) to London. Stupidly, he has not brought a book, a newspaper or his beloved iPod. So, what to do to pass the time? There's only one thing for it, play with the camera. Not a camera that has been carfully calibrated at home, but a little compact that has the gimicky facility to swap colours. So the entire journey was spent taking pictures out of the window using the swapping facility to change the colour of the sky. I wonder; are there any planets out there that have skies with colours like these?
What do we learn from this:
? Do not take things for granted, just because something is one way in a particular place does not mean it will be the same everywhere else.
? Be on the look out for things that are out of place; you never know what they might tell you.
? It is bad to forget your iPod, but it is good to remember your camera.
? Viking found no signs of any Martians, but judging by how out of touch with reality some of the people our not-so-young man met today were, it's quite possible that the Martians have moved to London.
? If you sit on a train maniacally photographing everything that moves (and quite a few things that don't) you not only get a seat on the train, but the seat next to you remains free as well. And that little discovery has to be worth all the gold on Mars.
164. What Colour Is The Sky On Your Planet?