While the idea of sending humans to Mars was once limited to science fiction, NASA hopes it could become a reality by the end of the 2030s.
But one of the most important questions we need to solve before we leave for the Red Planet is where to land.
Now, scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) have created the first marine map of Mars, based on data from the Mars Express Observatory and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The team hopes the map will change our way of thinking about Mars’ watery past and help decide where to land on the Red Planet in the future.
European Space Agency (ESA) scientists have created the first marine map of Mars, based on data from the Mars Express Observatory and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
MARS: THE BASIS
Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, with a ‘near-death’ dusty, cold desert world with a very thin atmosphere.
Mars is also a dynamic planet with seasons, polar ice caps, canyons, extinct volcanoes and evidence that it was even more active in the past.
It is one of the most explored planets in the solar system and the only planet sent by humans to explore.
A day on Mars is just over 24 hours and a year is 687 Earth days.
Facts and numbers
Turnaround time: 687 days
Surface: 144.8 million km²
Distance from Zon: 227.9 million km
Gravity: 3,721 m/s²
Ray: 3.389.5 km
moons: Phobos, Deimos
The map shows the locations and abundances of aqueous minerals on Mars.
These minerals come from rocks that have been chemically altered by water in the past and mostly converted to clay and salts.
While you might think these watery minerals would be very few, the big surprise is that they are common on Mars, with the map revealing hundreds of thousands of such areas.
“This work has now shown that when you study the ancient sites in detail, not seeing these minerals is actually the oddity,” said Dr John Carter of the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale.
The big question now is whether this water was persistent or limited to shorter, more intense episodes.
ESA hopes the map will be a better tool to answer this question.
“I think we’ve collectively made Mars too simple,” said Dr. Carter.
Scientists have previously tended to think that only a few types of clay minerals formed during the wet season on Mars.
As the water gradually dried up, salts were produced all over the planet.
However, the new map shows that the process was probably much more complicated than this.
While many of the salts probably formed later than the clay, the map shows that there are exceptions.
Data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument showed that the Jezero crater exhibits a rich variety of hydrated minerals
ESA’s Mars Express Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité (OMEGA) instrument is better suited for higher spectral resolution mapping and provides global coverage of Mars
Moon soil can be used to convert CO2 into ROCKET FUEL to power missions to Mars
Moon soil could potentially be turned into rocket fuel to power future missions to Mars, a new study has found.
Analysis of dirt grains brought back by the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e 5 found that regolith on the moon contains compounds that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
The soil is rich in iron and titanium, which act as catalysts under sunlight and can convert carbon dioxide and water released by astronauts’ bodies into oxygen, hydrogen and other beneficial byproducts such as methane to power a lunar base.
Because liquid oxygen and hydrogen make rocket fuel, it also opens the door to a cost-effective interplanetary gas station on the moon for travel to the Red Planet and beyond.
‘The evolution from a lot of water to no water is not as clear as we thought, the water didn’t just stop overnight,’ explains Dr Carter.
‘We see an enormous diversity of geological contexts, so that no single process or simple timeline can explain the evolution of the mineralogy of Mars.
‘That is the first result of our research. The second is that if you exclude life processes on Earth, Mars exhibits a diversity of mineralogy in geological environments, just like Earth.’
ESA used data from various instruments to create the map.
For example, data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument showed that Jezero Crater exhibits a rich variety of hydrated minerals.
Meanwhile, ESA’s Mars Express Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité (OMEGA) instrument is better suited for higher spectral resolution mapping and provided global coverage of Mars.
The researchers hope the map will be helpful to NASA in choosing where to land on Mars in the future.
The news comes ahead of NASA’s Artemis I mission, which will launch on August 29, paving the way for future missions to the Moon and Mars.
“Artemis I will be an unmanned flight test that will provide a foundation for human exploration of deep space and demonstrate our commitment and ability to extend human existence to the moon and beyond,” explains NASA.
If the Artemis missions are a success, NASA aims to launch astronauts to Mars by the end of the 2030s or early 2040s.
NASA plans to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s after the first landing on the moon
Mars has become the next great leap forward for human exploration of space.
But before humans reach the red planet, astronauts will take some small steps by returning to the moon for a year-long mission.
Details of a lunar orbit mission have been revealed as part of a timeline of events leading to missions to Mars in the 2030s.
NASA has outlined its four-phase plan (pictured) that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at the Humans to Mars Summit held yesterday in Washington DC. This will entail multiple missions to the moon in the coming decades
In May 2017, Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator for policies and plans at NASA, outlined the space agency’s four-phase plan that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars, as well as the projected time frame.
Phase one and two will involve multiple trips to lunar space, to allow for the construction of a habitat that will provide a staging point for the journey.
The final piece of hardware delivered would be the actual Deep Space Transport vehicle that would later be used to transport a crew to Mars.
And in 2027, a one-year simulation of life on Mars will be conducted.
Phases three and four will begin after 2030 and will include ongoing crew expeditions to the Martian system and the Martian surface.