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Authors: Jennifer Brown

Life on Mars

BOOK: Life on Mars
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Contents

1 The Booger Galaxy

2 Brattius: The Snarling Sister Stars

3 The Face-Eating Zombie Constellation

4 The Black Hole of Las Vegas

5 The Big Scream Theory

6 The Rocket Ship of Doom

7 The Wailing Rainbow Star

8 The Aunt Knee Constellation

9 The Castor-Old Collision

10 A Situation of Infinite Gravity

11 Terror: The Alpha Star in the Neighbor Constellation

12 The Hidden Universe of Lights and Prisoners

13 The Intergalactic Association of I Heart Faces

14 The Greatest (or at Least Pretty Cool) Space Discovery of all Time

15 Tripp in Opposition

16 Official Mission: Bread and Jam

17 The Surprisius Meteor Shower

18 Astro or Naut?

19 Total Eclipse of the Mom

20 Tripp's Atmosphere is Starting to Look Weightless

21 The Deep Space Immersion

22 Blastoff Into Nothingness

23 The Tuna Salad Corpse Moon

24 Martians, Morse-Shuns

25 The Huey Discovery

26 The Silent But Deadly Nebula

27 The Grouchytush Hypothesis

28 Two Moons Named Fear and Panic

29 A Comet's Tail (Not the Dog's, But Just as Smelly)

30 Huey and the Great Space Explosion

31 The Unexpected Solar Flare of Love

32 Cashius Kiddius: The Friendship Constellation

33 The Gravitational Pull of the Mother, Er … Father Planet

34 The Space Shuttle Epiphany, Ready for Liftoff!

35 3-2-1 Contact!

Fun Facts About Mars

Acknowledgments

1
The Booger Galaxy

You would think that my earliest space-related memory would be about, well, space. It would make sense that I'd remember sitting outside, my legs and arms all covered with bug spray, as I wished on shooting stars and peered at the moon through a telescope. Or that I'd recall my father standing next to me, showing me the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, the North Star.

But, no. My first space-related memory is about boogers. Because that's what happens when you let sisters get involved in things—your best memories get all boogered up.

I was four, and we were lying in the backyard looking for Orion, the Great Hunter in the sky. It was winter, so Dad had pulled our sleeping bags out of the garage and Mom made us hot cocoa, and we were all staring at three stars in a line that Dad said were supposed to make up Orion's belt.

Dad pointed straight up. “You see that haze on his hip, Arty?”

“Yeah,” I whispered, goose bumps breaking out on my arms even though the cocoa was making my hands sweat inside my gloves.

“You see it?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“That, Arty, is the Horsehead Nebula.”

“The Horsehead Nebula,” I repeated, letting out a long, satisfied sigh. “What is it?”

“I just told you. The Horsehead Nebula.”

“The Horsehead Nebula,” I said again. “What is a nebula made of?”

But before my dad—who knows everything there is to know about the winter sky, the summer sky, and every sky in between—could open his mouth, my older sister, Vega, piped up.

“Boogers,” she said, and then giggled. “The whole sky is made of boogers.”

Generally speaking, boogers are pretty awesome when you're four. So a nebula made of boogers was a fairly fascinating concept to me. But at that moment my little sister, Cassi, who was barely two and much easier to get along with than she is now, chose to speak her first full sentence:

“Sky is boogers!”

Mom got upset that she had to write “Sky is boogers” in Cassi's baby journal, so she made us go inside. All except for Dad, who had to stay outside and roll up the sleeping bags by himself.

I never got to find out what the Horsehead Nebula was really made of.

I finally found out in fourth-grade space camp that a nebula is a big cloud of gas. But it turns out big clouds of gas are
hilarious
to fourth-grade boys sleeping over in an echoey space museum, so my moment was ruined. Again.

But boogers or no boogers, I could remember that first night so clearly. Orion. My first constellation.

If you step outside on a winter night, and you face southwest and look up, you will see three stars in a line. Those stars are Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak but are more commonly known as Orion's belt. The stars surrounding the belt make up the Orion constellation, a warrior holding a shield in one hand and a club in the other, ready to attack a bull, his sword gleaming in his belt. Muscle, bravery, ferocity!
Ka-pow! Ka-chang! Ka-thud!

The story goes that Orion was the son of a sea god and a great huntress. It is also said that he got all full of himself and talked smack and a scorpion bit him and he died. And because of that, the Orion constellation and the Scorpio constellation hang out at opposite ends of the sky, so you can never see them at the same time. Orion is pretty much running away from Scorpio every night for all eternity.

So, yeah, he was also kind of a wimp. Because, seriously, a scorpion is just a bug.

Now, if you follow the stars of Orion's belt straight up to the left, you will find a red supergiant. The star that I was named after: Betelgeuse.

Which literally translates to … “Armpit.”

Okay, “Armpit of the Central One,” but to me that only sounded like a really hairy armpit, and kind of sweaty, too, from fighting off bulls and minotaurs and scorpions and stuff.

To be fair, Betelgeuse is only my middle name. My first name is actually Arty, short for Arcturus, which is the alpha star in the Boötes constellation. Being the alpha star sounds pretty important, until you follow it up with Armpit. Armpit kind of makes every name lose its luster. I could've been named after the sun, and if you put Armpit after it … again with the sweaty image, am I right?

So, yeah, that's me: Arcturus Betelgeuse Chambers.

There was this famous astronomer named Carl Sagan who figured out all kinds of cool stuff, like that it was trapped gases that made Venus so hot and that there was water on Saturn's moon Titan. And he had this really famous quote that said we are all made of starstuff. What he meant by that was that all of the chemicals that go into our teeth and bones and hair and the food we eat and the cars we drive and the entire planet and pretty much everything came from exploded stars in our universe billions of years ago.

I don't know if I really understand what he was saying. I mean, my third-grade teacher, Mr. Pictor, had the yellowest teeth I'd ever seen on a human being, with little flecks of brown stuck in between the bottom ones. Hard to believe those came from a star. More like from a muddy river, maybe.

But what I do know is that if anyone is made of starstuff,
the Chambers family is definitely it. From Grandpa Muliphein, who was named after the delta star of Canis Major, to Uncle Fornax, who slept in a lawn chair on his roof during the summer, to my second cousins, Longie and Lattie (short for Longitude and Latitude), right on down to Corvus Chambers—otherwise known as … my dad.

Dad worked at the university observatory, a job he'd had since he was an astronomy and physics grad student. That was where he'd met Mom, who was a “cute little co-ed with glistening red curls and blah blah blah”—I never knew how the rest of that sentence went because it was disgusting to hear him talk about it. That's my
mom
!

I pretty much grew up in that observatory. Dad would hold my hand, helping me climb the stairs, saying, “Did you know, Arty, that Saturn's rings were first discovered in the sixteen hundreds by Galileo? And we now know that those rings are made up of ice. And Saturn has sixty-two moons.…” I'd pretend I was walking the catwalk to a space shuttle with my dog, Comet, at my heels, yipping inside a doggy space helmet. And we'd get up to the top of the stairs and Dad would throw open the door and there would be the giant telescope. Smooth, gleaming, pointing toward the sky as if it were a rocket ready to take off right through the ceiling. It almost took my breath away.

Dad would pat me between the shoulder blades, pushing me toward the eyepiece. “Go ahead,” he'd say. “I've already got her trained on Mars for you.”

I'd step up on shaky legs and peer through the eyepiece and at first it would be blurry and kind of black around the edges and I would think I couldn't work it or that it was somehow broken. Or maybe a bat was sitting on top of the telescope and all I was seeing was bat butt—which distracted me because I'd crack up trying to say “bat butt” ten times fast in my head.

Bat butt
.

Bat butt
.

Bat butt
.

Bat butt
.

Bat butt
.

Bat butt
.

Bat butt
.

Bat butt
.

Bat butt
.

Bat butt
.

“You know, Arty,” Dad would say, “they think if there's life out there somewhere, the best bet would be on Mars. All those crevices you see indicate that there might once have been water on Mars, and if there was once, there could still be. Maybe frozen underground. And anywhere there is water, there's potential for life.”

I'd look harder and all at once the red planet would come into focus. I would try to see the life he talked about, hoping to find an ocean, maybe see a green blobby head pop out, get a wave from a friendly alien. Maybe the alien would even be wearing a big foam finger: Mars is #1! Mars is #1!

Dad never came home from the observatory early. He liked to stay late, especially on clear summer nights. There was just too much to see.

Which was why it was so surprising when one night my dad came home from work really early, sat down next to me at the kitchen island, threw away the remote control NASA space shuttle replica that had sat on his desk for as long as I could remember, turned to me, and said, “Sky is boogers.”

BOOK: Life on Mars
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