4. Mars: The red planet | Is it life sustainable?

Mars is the second smallest planet in the solar system after mercury. The iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance distinctive eye. It carries the name of the Roman God War and is often referred to as Red Planet.

Appearance

Mars

The red planet can be easily seen from Earth with the naked eye and its red coloring too can be seen. It is half the diameter of the Earth, with a surface area only slightly less than the total area of Earth’s dry land. It lost its magnetosphere possibly due to numerous asteroid strikes. The solar winds interact directly with its Ionosphere, thus lowering the atmospheric density.

Orbit and Rotation

Mars is roughly 230 million km on average from the Sun. The period of its rotation is 687 days. The Solar day here is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds. A Martian year is equal to 1.8809 Earth years or 1 year, 320 days, and 182 hours. The axial tilt of the red planet is 25.19 degrees, which is similar to the axial tilt of Earth. It has a relatively pronounced eccentricity of about 0.09 of all the seven planets only Mercury has a larger eccentricity.

Atmosphere

Mars has a surface pressure of 0.636 kPa. It’s atmosphere is composed of 95.97% carbon dioxide, neon , carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, brypton, xenon and hydrogen deuterium oxide.

The red planet is the site of Olympus Mons, the largest volume and highest mountain known on any planet in the Solar System. It is also the site of Vallies Marineris, one of the largest canyons in the Solar System.

It has two moons, Phobos and Deimos which are small and irregularly shaped.

Moons

The Red Planet has two relatively small moons Phobos and Deimos. Both these natural satellites were discovered by Asaph Hall. The moons are named after Phobos and Deimos, who, in Greek mythology, accompanied their father Ares into battle. Ares was the Roman God of War. Mars was the Roman counterpart of Ares.

  Phobos rises in the West and sets in the East. It rises again in just 11 hours. Deimos rises in the East and sets in the West. Phobos is below synchronous altitude therefore tidal forces from the planet are gradually lowering its orbit.

Habitability

The thin atmosphere prevents liquid water from existing over the large regions for extended periods on the planet. Recent evidence has suggested that any water on the Martian surface may have been salty and acidic to support regular terrestrial life. The lack of a magnetosphere and a very thin atmosphere is also a challenge. The planet has little heat transfer across its surface, poor insulation against bombardment of Solar winds, and insufficient atmospheric pressure to retain water as a liquid from Martian surface is nearly or totally, geologically dead. Only highly refractory and well-protected organics or life forms are likely to survive.

Exploration of Mars

The Soviet Union, United States, Europe and India have sent orbits, landers and rovers to study the Martian surface, climate and geology.

The Mars Science Laboratory, named Curiosity launched on 26 November 2011 reached the red planet on 6 August 2012. On 10 February 2013, the Curiosity rover obtained the first deep rock samples ever taken from another planetary body. It also discovered that Martian soil contains between 1.5% to 3% water by mass. Observations by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had previously revealed the possibility of flowing water during the warmest months of the planet.

Indian space agency (ISRO) sent their first-ever orbiter into the red planet orbit. Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was launched by ISRO by using PSLV C-25 Launch Vehicle. On 24 September 2014, MOM launched by Indian Space Research Organisation reached Mars Orbit. It was launched to analyze the Martian atmosphere and topography. It used Hohmann transfer orbit to escape Earth’s gravitational influence. This mission was the first successful Asian Interplanetary Mission.

The European Space Agency, in collaboration with Roscosmos launched Exomars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander on 14 March 2016. The trace Gas Orbiter was successful while Schiaparelli Crashed during its landing attempt. 

 In May 2018 NASA’S Insight lander was launched.

 In 2019,MAVEN spacecraft mapped high altitude global wind pattern at Mars for the first time. It was discovered that the winds are miles above the surface retained information about the forms below.

Mariner 3 launched by NASA on 23 November 1964, was the first spacecraft to visit the red planet. Mariner 4 detected a weak Martian radiation belt.

Viking 1 landed successfully on 20 July 1976 on to the Martian surface.

The Soviet Mars 3 Spacecraft achieved a safe landing in December 1971 but contact was lost with its lander seconds after touchdown.

Future Explorations

NASA launched the Mars 2020 mission on July 30,2020. The mission will catch samples for future retrieval and return to Earth.

The European Space Agency will launch the ExoMars Rover and Surface platform in sometime between August and October 2022.

The United Arab Emirates Mars Hope was launched on 19 July 2020. The probe will conduct global study of the Martian atmosphere.

Space X founder Elon Musk presented a plan to launch a frenzied mission to Mars in 2024 at an estimated development cost of US $ 10 billion. But the mission is not expected to take before 2027. In October 2016, President Barack Obama renewed United States Policy to pressure the goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s and to continue using the International Space Station as a technology incubator in that pursuit.

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