Our fascination with Mars is nothing new. Long before advanced space exploration started taking place on the planet over the last few years, it’s been a mainstay in pop culture, exceeding every other planet in terms of our fascination with it. From science fiction to music, Mars has influenced us tremendously. Now, NASA has been able to provide us with valuable information regarding what makes this planet so unique.
As we all know, lots of advancements have been made in recent years regarding the unique environment of Mars. But, of course, there’s still a lot to learn, and NASA isn’t done gaining knowledge yet. So, why have we been able to make such incredible discoveries in such a short period of time? And, what is there that we still don’t know?
Learning More About the Big Red Planet
Our journeys to Mars began in 1965, when the Mariner 4 first explored the planet using the limited technology of the time. While the Mariner 4 was able to get very close to the planet in order to observe it from a short distance, it did not land. Then, in 1976, the Viking 1 and Viking 2 landed on Mars, marking the first successful landing mission. However, in 1976, technology was far more limited than it is today, meaning that all that the scientists could do were take photographs and record data based on human observation.
In January of 2004, NASA sent a rover to Mars, and this rover had technology capable of recording data beyond human capabilities. This was the first time that such an advanced rover had traveled to another planet and provided such insight into the fine details of the atmosphere. Needless to say, this mission inspired many others, and its influence is still felt to this day as we continuously send rovers to Mars in order to gain more knowledge
In order to gain even better insight, NASA currently has three spacecraft orbiting Mars. These spacecraft are recording quakes primarily, but also measuring craters and observing changes in temperature. Meanwhile, two rovers are positioned on Mars’ terrain, recording more detailed data regarding the makeup of the atmosphere, air pressure and more. They’re also recording data on the planet’s soil and rocks as these can clue us into minerals and gases that exist in the planet.
Of course, over recent years, we’ve been hearing a lot of discussion regarding the habitability of Mars. As of now, it’s not believed that human life can thrive on Mars. However, scientists are continuing to study the planet in order to determine if there is a way for human life to adapt to it. This is primarily because of the fact that out of all of the planets in our solar system, Mars shares the most in common with Earth.
What We Know
Thanks to many successful exploration missions, we know a great deal about Mars today compared to fifty years ago. For one thing, we know that Mars is cold. This should be of no surprise to anyone who understands how distance from the sun determines climate. In fact, the temperature is far below freezing, which means that as it stands, our bodies could not survive in such a climate.
Mars is covered in red dust, and due to the windy conditions of the planet, dust storms are very common. They’re actually quite incredible to watch as we’ve never seen anything like them here on Earth. Additionally, Mars is prone to quakes much like the earthquakes that we experience here. However, they take place far less frequently than they do on our own planet because of the way in which the rock is laid out beneath the surface.
Mars is extremely rocky, meaning that there are many mountains. There are also many craters. We know that the soil on Mars has a unique variety of minerals. Another thing that’s fascinating is the fact that Mars has about one third of the gravity that we’re used to. This means that objects take far longer to fall to the ground when dropped.
What We Still Have to Learn
If there’s one thing that scientists wish to discover, it’s a clear sign of life on Mars. As of now, scientists have many reasons to believe that this is a strong possibility. However, they have not yet come close to determining this definitively.
In order for life on Mars to exist, scientists believe that there must be liquid water. However, scientists have yet to find this liquid water. In order for water to be liquid, it must be in close proximity to heat. After all, water would freeze into a solid given the extremely cold temperatures of Mars. However, due to its proximity to the sun and certain stars, liquid water remains a strong possibility. Should scientists come across it at last, they would likely be able to discover organisms that exist around the water.
Scientists also believe that there’s a possibility that there’s no life on Mars at the present, but that there has been in the past. They would need to come across some sort of signs of former life in order to determine this, which, as you can imagine, is not very easy to do.
Another thing that scientists are still trying to determine is the unique mineral content of the planet’s soil. While this may sound like an insignificant detail, it actually largely determines the planet’s overall atmosphere, and therefore allows us to compare it to our own. The unique composition of minerals has a lot to do with the gases that exist in the planet.
Still A Lot to Learn About Mars
While we’ve gained valuable information about Mars in just a few years, there’s still a whole lot to explore. And explore we will as NASA continues to make great strides in order to develop more profound technology that can clue us into what makes this planet so unique. Within the next decade, we expect to learn even more than we do now. And, to put it simply, we can’t wait.