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Could 'Game of Thrones' be set on ancient Mars?

Researchers may have found the key to the mystery of ancient flowing water on Mars, but Crave's Eric Mack thinks they've also explained the weird weather in Westeros.

In between all the sex and brutal violence on HBO's "Game of Thrones," I often find myself curious about the planetary science behind the weather in Westeros.

Could the unpredictable but inevitable arrival of a long, cold winter to this fictional land be due to its orbiting a distant binary star system, as scientists have suggested? Perhaps, but new research has led to me wonder whether the Starks and the Mother of Dragons could have resided on a planet much closer to Earth. Namely, Mars.

Could early Martian lakes have formed the backdrop for "Game of Thrones"? NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Rendering by James Dickson, Brown University

A new study by scientists from Brown University and Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that Mars went through periods when temperatures were warm enough to melt the snow and ice on the frozen planet.

"This new analysis provides a mechanism for episodic periods of heating and melting of snow and ice that could have each lasted decades to centuries," James W. Head, professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University and co-author of the new paper, said in a release Monday.

The paper, published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, says the warmer episodes on Mars could be related to periods of volcanic activity on the Red Planet that spewed greenhouse-inducing sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere.

This would conceivably settle something that has baffled scientists about Mars in recent years -- how to reconcile the planet's frigid climate with the abundant evidence that water once flowed across its surface.

It could also offer, it seems to me, a simple explanation for the strange weather patterns in Westeros in which winter does not seem to arrive or stay on a set schedule.

To be clear, the study is serious science that says nothing about "Game of Thrones" or Westeros. This is all my own conjecture, and admittedly there are a few problems with my hypothesis that an ancient Red Planet warmed by a case of volcano-triggered "Martial warming" could also serve as a real-life counterpart for Westeros.

While it explains the periodic and unpredictable warming and cooling periods that drive the plot of the show, I have to concede that if the planet has spent the majority of its time in various ice ages, broken up by a decade here or there of warmth, it would seem to be the opposite of the Westeros "reality," though we don't know for sure that the warm periods are generally longer than the winter on "Game of Thrones."

Perhaps more to the point, a frozen planet that only has brief periods of warmth, geologically speaking, would not have much time to evolve the wide variety of complex life forms that populate "Game of Thrones," from Dire Wolves to dragons and white walkers, if we consider them to be life forms.

However, for proof that life can survive under such drastic oscillations, we need look no further than the bottom of our own planet. While Antarctica remains frozen much of the time, summer temperatures can climb above the freezing point, allowing water to flow and support life.

"Life in Antarctica, in the form of algal mats, is very resistant to extremely cold and dry conditions and simply waits for the episodic infusion of water to 'bloom' and develop," Head said. "Thus, the ancient and currently dry and barren river and lake floors on Mars may harbor the remnants of similar primitive life, if it ever occurred on Mars."

In another, more magical reality, perhaps it's not so hard to imagine that Antarctica's algal mats or the primitive life forms at the bottom of ancient Martian lakes were able to evolve into the brutal, blood-thirsty medieval-esque society that makes for really excellent television.

If anyone out there is able to cross-reference the historical activity of Dragonmont volcano in Westeros with its weird weather patterns, perhaps we'll finally be able to unlock its climate mystery.