"Mars will remain uninhabitable, and the Earth, even degraded, will be infinitely more habitable"

“Mars will remain uninhabitable, and the Earth, even degraded, will be infinitely more habitable”

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Astrophysicist Sylvia Ekström was invited Thursday in La Matinale to discuss the 250th anniversary of the Geneva Observatory. The researcher notably mentioned the fantasy of man going to live on the planet Mars, an “impossible” scenario, according to her.

In 1950 on the ancestor of the RTS – radio Sottens -, when asked whether beings otherwise conditioned than humans could live on other planets, the French astronomer and popularizer Paul Couderc affirmed that the planets were only not inhabited.

“We are talking about life as we know it, that is, this curious property of very complex carbon compounds. Astronomers are content to compare the properties of life as we know it with the physical conditions -chemicals that reign on the planets. They ignore for the moment the salamanders and the chimeras”, metaphorized the researcher more than seventy years ago.

More recently, at the beginning of 2021, the Perseverance robot successfully turned its wheels on Mars, announced the American space agency (NASA), at the same time sending several shots of historical value and giving way to the Hollywood fantasies of businessmen. to colonize the red planet.

“Mars is not habitable”, asserts without ambiguity Sylvia Ekström, author of the book ‘We will not live on Mars, nor elsewhere’. “The major problem, when you want to colonize something, is that it should already be habitable. Mars will remain uninhabitable, and the Earth, even very degraded, will be infinitely more habitable.”

Identical missions for the Observatory

In 1772, under the impetus of the astronomer Jacques-André Mallet, Geneva acquired its first astronomical observatory. At the time, we scanned the sky from the Saint-Antoine bastion, in the heart of the city. Today, the observatory is located in Sauverny (GE), in a place less exposed to light pollution.

In its early days, the Geneva Observatory fulfilled two functions. It was of course to satisfy the curiosity of the scientists of the time, helping them to decode the sky. But it also had the task of providing watchmakers with the exact time, thanks to calculations drawn from the observation of the stars.

>> Reread our Large Format on the 250 years of the Observatory: The Geneva Observatory celebrates its 250th anniversary

The missions of the Observatory have not really changed 250 years later, as explained by Sylvia Ekström, interviewed in La Matinale.

“Our missions haven’t changed per se, but the way we do them has. The tasks of the Team Observatory are still the same: research, which has changed a bit, and teaching. The watchmakers no longer need us, but we still do a service to the public through visits, observation evenings. We give the times of sunrise for people who are interested in it”, explains the one who was a midwife in another professional life.

Mayor and Queloz boost Geneva

The Geneva Observatory is attached to the astronomy department of the University of Geneva (UNIGE). It has become a renowned research center and can be proud of having been the workplace of two Nobel Prize winners, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, who in 1995 announced the discovery of the first exoplanet to the world.

“Initially, there were maybe five in the world who had the audacity to try to detect them. The field of exoplanets really exploded. They showed that it was possible, and now there are thousands of them. astronomers to take an interest in this field”, explains Sylvia Ekström.

Has this success had repercussions on the Geneva Observatory? “We had a big growth, that’s for sure. Now we are looking for offices forever,” rejoices the Swedish-born.

Many activities for the 250th anniversary

To mark the 250th anniversary of the Geneva Observatory with dignity, the UNIGE Astronomy Department, in collaboration with the EPFL Astrophysics Laboratory, will offer various activities throughout the year. The program of festivities began with a major open house operation in mid-June.

>> Listen to the CQFD program dedicated to the 250th anniversary of the Geneva Observatory:

The Geneva Observatory blows out its 250 candles / CQFD / 10 min. / June 17, 2022

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