The Sirens of Mars

The Sirens of Mars

Searching for Life on Another World


Brought to you by Penguin.

As a new wave of interplanetary exploration launches in summer 2020, a talented young planetary scientist charts our centuries-old obsession with Mars.

'This elegantly crafted book conveys what it's like to be a young scientist involved in the quest' Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal

Mars - bewilderingly empty, coated in red dust - is an unlikely place to pin our hopes of finding life elsewhere. And yet, right now multiple spacecraft are circling, sweeping over Terra Sabaea, Syrtis Major, the dunes of Elysium and Mare Sirenum - on the brink, perhaps, of a discovery that would inspire humankind as much as any in our history.

With poetic precision and grace, Sarah Stewart Johnson traces the evocative history of our explorations of Mars. She interlaces her personal journey as a scientist with tales of other seekers - from Galileo to William Herschel to Carl Sagan - who have scoured this enigmatic planet for signs of life and transformed it in our understanding from a distant point of light into a complex world. Ultimately, she shows how its story is also a story about Earth: it is a foil, a mirror, a tell-tale reflection of our own anxieties and yearnings to find - if we're lucky - that we're not alone.

'The inside story of the exploration of Mars and the search for life there' Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

'A celebration of human curiosity, passion and perseverance. Superb in its storytelling, majestic in its vision, The Sirens of Mars will give readers a new appreciation for the preciousness of life in the cosmos' Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams

© Sarah Stewart Johnson 2020 (P) Penguin Audio 2020


  • Beautifully written, emotive - a love letter to a planet
    Dermot O'Leary, BBC Radio 2

About the author

Sarah Stewart Johnson

Sarah Stewart Johnson is an associate professor at Georgetown University, where she teaches astrobiology and planetary science and leads a biosignatures laboratory. A former Goldwater, Truman, and Rhodes Scholar, as well as a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, she received degrees in PPE and in Biology from the University of Oxford, and a PhD from MIT. She worked with President Obama's science advisor in the White House, and now serves on the science team for NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover.
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