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07 Jun

Space Matters: Mars, Part One

Welcome to the Blogs in Motion series: Space Matters!

For this entry, we’ll be taking a look at one of our close planetary neighbors: Mars. This planet has held a place in our collective consciousnesses ever since it was first noted by Christian Huygens in 1659. From science fiction to practical research, Mars has been a consistent point of interest for many people and organizations. In recent years, Mars has become a hot topic of discussion, ranging from the various forms of water both on and under the planet’s surface to the various organizations and countries planning to send manned missions in the coming decade. We’ll be taking a look at Mars and humanity’s relationship with it. Let’s begin by taking a look at a few facts about the red planet.

Mars, named after the Roman God of War, is the fourth planet in our Solar System. It orbits around the Sun every 687 days at a distance of 227 million kilometers. Nearly 95% of its atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide, with the rest consisting of small amounts of other elements such as oxygen, argon and nitrogen. Commonly referred to as the “red planet”, Mars’ iconic hue is the result of iron oxide dust on the planet’s surface, which is also dispersed in the air by intense dust storms. Two small moons orbit the planet, Demios and Phobos. These moons have long suspected to be not typical moons, but in fact asteroids that were caught in Mars’ gravity during the formation of the Solar System. Mars is also home to a few notable landmarks, including Olympus Mons (the largest known mountain in the Solar System, standing nearly three times higher than Mount Everest) and the region of Cydonia, which contains the infamous “Face on Mars”. In spite of the many interesting observations made about Mars over the years, perhaps the most significant is the presence of both frozen and liquid water.

Water in its various forms on Mars has been reported on several times in the last 15 years.  Thanks to the Martian probe missions, we know that ice exists on the surface in the north polar cap and under the surface at the south cap. Despite the success of the missions, the presence of liquid water was yet to be confirmed and only hypothesized on. However, on September 28, 2015, NASA scientists announced that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had collected sufficient evidence to support the theory that liquid water flows on Mars. Announcements like this are sometimes met with skepticism or dismissal by some. Many are often left asking why they should care about such things. First, it is important to remember just how vital water is to the formation and sustaining of organic life. All living things on Earth require water for survival and as we’ve seen in our own system, it’s not always easy or convenient to find. By locating water elsewhere; we begin to overcome one of the biggest hurdles of humanity’s journey into space: the dependence on Earth for a life-sustaining resource. The colonization of Mars allows us to expand our reach in the Solar System by becoming a secondary source of food, water and breathable air. Studying water where we find it strengthens the on-going effort to discovering and understanding new forms of life, as well as the development of life itself. Since we know water sustains organic life, observing it on other planetary bodies can lead to discovering new microscopic organisms in different stages of development and evolution. Reflecting on this, we encourage you to keep an eye on the developments on Mars in the years to come. The existence of life elsewhere in space is one of humanity’s great unanswered questions and Mars presents an ideal stepping stone for discovery.

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