While the idea of sending humans to Mars was once limited to science fiction, NASA hopes it will become a reality by the late 2030s.
But one of the key questions we need to address before we set off for the red planet is where to land.
Now, scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) have created the first map of water on Mars, based on data from the Mars Express Observatory and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The team hopes the map will change how we think about Mars’ past waters and help determine future landing sites on the red planet.
Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) have created the first water map of Mars based on data from the Mars Express Observatory and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars: The Basics
Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, has a “dying” dusty, cold desert world with a very thin atmosphere.
Mars is also a dynamic planet, with four seasons, polar ice caps, canyons, extinct volcanoes, and evidence that it was more active in the past.
It is one of the most explored planets in the solar system and the only planet that humans have sent rovers to explore.
A day on Mars takes a little over 24 hours, and a year is 687 Earth days.
Facts and Figures
orbital period: 687 days
surface area: 144.8 million square kilometers
distance from the sun: 227.9 million kilometers
gravity: 3.721 m/s²
radius: 3,389.5 km
moon: Phobos, Phobos
This map shows the location and abundance of water-bearing minerals on Mars.
These minerals come from rocks that have been chemically altered by water in the past, often into clays and salts.
While you might think that these water-bearing minerals are few and far between, it’s surprising how ubiquitous they are on Mars, with maps showing hundreds of thousands of such regions.
“This work has now established that when you study ancient topography in detail, not seeing these minerals is actually a strange thing,” said Dr John Carter from the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale.
The big question now is whether this water is persistent or limited to shorter, more intense bouts.
ESA hopes this map will be a better tool for answering this question.
“I think we collectively oversimplified Mars,” Dr Carter said.
Scientists had tended to believe that only a few clay minerals were produced on Mars during its wet periods.
Then, as the water dries up, the entire planet produces salt.
However, the new map shows that the process could be a lot more complicated than that.
While many salts may have formed later than clays, the map shows there are exceptions.
Data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument shows Jezero crater displays rich and diverse 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
Lunar soil could be used to convert carbon dioxide into rocket fuel to power Mars missions
A new study has found that lunar soil has the potential to be converted into rocket fuel to power future missions to Mars.
Analysis of dirt particles brought back by China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft found that the moon’s regolith contains compounds that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
The soil is rich in iron and titanium, which act as catalysts in sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water released by astronauts’ bodies into other useful byproducts such as oxygen, hydrogen and methane that power the lunar base.
Since liquefied oxygen and hydrogen can make rocket fuel, it also opens the door to a low-cost interstellar gas station on the moon for travel to the Red Planet and beyond.
Dr Carter explained: “The evolution from lots of water to no water is not as obvious as we thought, and the water doesn’t stop overnight.”
“We see a huge diversity of geological contexts, so there is no single process or simple timeline that can explain the evolution of Martian mineralogy.
“This is the first result of our study. The second is that if you exclude life processes on Earth, Mars exhibits a variety of mineralogy in geological settings, just like Earth does.
To create the map, ESA used data from various instruments.
For example, data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument shows that Jezero crater displays rich and diverse 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 provides global coverage of Mars.
The researchers hope the map will be useful to NASA as it chooses where to land on Mars in the future.
The news comes ahead of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, which will launch on Aug. 29 to pave the way for future missions to the moon and Mars.
“Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight test that will lay the foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate our commitment and ability to extend human existence to the moon and beyond,” NASA explained.
If the Artemis mission is successful, NASA aims to send astronauts to Mars in the late 2030s or early 2040s.
NASA plans to launch manned missions to Mars in 2030s after first moon landing
Mars becomes the next giant leap in human exploration of space.
But before humans reach the red planet, astronauts will take a series of small steps by returning to the moon on a year-long mission.
Details of the lunar-orbiting mission have been released as part of a timeline of events for 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 in Washington, D.C., yesterday.This will require multiple lunar missions over the next few decades
In May 2017, Greg Williams, NASA’s associate deputy administrator for policy and programs, outlined the space agency’s four-phase plan to one day allow humans to visit Mars, along with a projected timeline.
Phase 1 and Phase 2 Multiple trips to lunar space would be involved to allow for the construction of a habitat that would provide a staging area for travel.
The last piece of hardware delivered will be the actual deep space transport vehicle that will later be used to transport the crew to Mars.
And will run a year-long simulation of life on Mars in 2027.
Phases three and four will begin after 2030 and will involve continued crew exploration of the Martian system and the Martian surface.