Mars, Curiosity and the Recent Excitement About Science

Now that’s joy

The landing of Curiosity on Mars has created yet another media frenzy around the otherwise overlooked world of scientific exploration and discovery. Just last month the discovery of the Higgs boson “God Particle” created similar interest. What’s notable about these scientific moments is that they have had the ability to captivate a mass audience despite the fact that they aren’t necessarily typical news fodder.

I admit, Curiosity landing on Mars is less surprising as a media phenomenon. The Space Race captivated our country for years, and the fascination with space and the solar system has endured. Who wouldn’t want to know what might be beyond our reach? Who didn’t dream of maybe one day going to space, of growing up to be the next Buzz Aldrin or Sally Ride. As an isolated incident it might not be that surprising.

Until you think about Higgs Boson, that is. Most of us who got excited about the discovery of the Higgs boson barely knew what it was. As many scientists pointed out, even explaining what they did and what it means within the scientific community is difficult, forget about explaining it well in a soundbite that’s easily digested by mass audiences. “God Particle” was as close as many of us got to understanding the hype. And yet we were excited.

It makes sense that the media would focus on “feel good” moments like this, because they get people excited and, let’s face it, it’s hard to take a pessimistic, oppositional stance on something like Curiosity landing on Mars. So rarely do we have uplifting news (see: Aurora, Oak Creek), and even rarer still that we have news that draws us together (see: Any Election Ever).

Additionally, unlike scientific articles that get misused by politicians who want to make their point, Mars and Higgs boson are pretty concrete definable moments.* It’s hard to imagine a global warming or sustainable energy-esque quarrel over Mars and the exploration of another planet. Knock on wood.

So, in honor of an uplifting bit of media coverage that brought out the astronaut in all of us, I leave you with “20 Feel Good Photos Of Scientists Freaking Out About The Mars Rover Landing.”

*I know there is nothing “concrete” about the discovery of the Higgs boson, but as a news event it certainly had a defined purpose and spin.

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One comment

  1. zouarvehat · · Reply

    I wonder, though, if we aren’t seeing excitement about science because we live in a slice of the world that gets excited about science. I mean, hooray science and all, but I don’t see Bubba Joe in his Meth lab in Oklahoma getting excited about science (although he should be because he could make better meth if he were) or LaShonqua who is currently conceiving her 5th baby with her 4th baby daddy in a project apartment in Memphis (although she should be because she really needs to understand where those babies come from) or the Westboro Baptist Church or the guy strapping the suicide vest to himself as he prepares to blow up a schoolbus in Gaza (even though being interested in science may show them how futile their faiths are) getting swept up in this recent excitement about science. if the media is distracting anyone from the bad news stories, its just the people who already be excited about science. This ignorant dolts who don’t care for science are going to be making up the bad news stories whether we land on Mars or not. And that’s sad. In the meantime – Go Team Science!

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