Photo/IllutrationThe Mars (Provided by NASA)

"The Martian Chronicles" by master science fiction storyteller Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) chronicles the colonization of Mars by humans.

In one episode, the Martian air proves too thin for a male colonist, and his doctor advises him to return to Earth. But the man stays and grows trees from seeds, and succeeds in raising the atmosphere's oxygen levels.

A long spell of drought ends one day with the arrival of much-awaited rain, mellow like the finest sherry. The rain's restorative power is such that thousands of huge trees grow into a forest overnight.

Bradbury's creative genius enabled him to imagine the life-giving power of water on Mars.

Even though there is nothing to suggest the sort of grand scene portrayed by Bradbury, it appears that there is water on the Red Planet.

A team of researchers from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics and other institutes announced earlier this week that a large "lake," about 20 kilometers wide, had been detected beneath the thick southern pole ice cap.

Despite the extremely low temperature of minus 70 degrees, the high concentration of salts in the lake apparently is one of the factors that allow it to remain liquid. The researchers are optimistic of the possibility of unicellular organisms surviving there.

Will we meet those microscopic life forms some day?

In Japan, this summer has taught us to be very afraid of water's destructiveness. But it is also water that saves and sustains life in the brutal heat.

I have come to appreciate anew the crucial importance of remaining hydrated, and how good a drink of plain water can taste.

A poem by Mitsue Toyama (1910-1993) goes to the effect, "What a relief it is to drink a glass of water that feels truly ice-cold."

In our solar system, Mars comes closer to Earth than any other planet save Venus. On July 31, the two planets will be at their closest in 15 years, and we are already seeing a much-bigger-than-usual orange dot in the night sky.

Imagining the possibility of the existence of life on Mars may increase our sense of affinity with it.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 28

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.