It is a scientific certainty that Mars was once a much different place, with a denser atmosphere, warmer temperatures, and where water once flowed. Evidence of this past is preserved in countless surface features, ranging from river channels and alluvial deposits to lakebeds. However, roughly 4 billion years ago, the planet began to change into what we see today, an extremely cold and desiccated environment. Between all that, it is possible Mars experienced glacial and interglacial periods, which is evidenced by images like the one taken by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shown above.Continue reading “This Sure Looks Like the Movements of a Glacier Across Ancient Mars”
At this very moment, eleven robotic missions are exploring Mars, a combination of orbiters, landers, rovers, and one aerial vehicle (the Ingenuity helicopter). Like their predecessors, these missions are studying Mars’ atmosphere, surface, and subsurface to learn more about its past and evolution, including how it went from a once warmer and wetter environment to the freezing, dusty, and extremely dry planet we see today. In addition, these missions are looking for evidence of past life on Mars and perhaps learning if and where it might still exist today.
One particularly interesting issue is how the atmosphere of Mars – primarily composed of carbon dioxide (CO2) – is relatively enriched with Carbon-13 (13C), aka. “heavy carbon.” For years, scientists have speculated that the ratio of this isotope to “light carbon” (12C) might be responsible for organics found on the surface (a sign of biological processes!). But after analyzing data from the ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission, an international team led by The Open University determined that these organics may be “abiotic” in origin (i.e., not biological).Continue reading “Life Probably Didn't Have a Hand in Creating Organic Deposits on the Surface of Mars”
NASA’s Perseverance rover mission provided a bluish pre-sunrise gift above Jezero Crater on March 18, 2022, aka Sol 738, or the 738th Martian day of the mission, with “sol” being the official timekeeping method for Mars missions since one Martian day is approximately 40 minutes longer than one Earth day. And, on this particular sol, the car-sized explorer used one of its navigation cameras (Navcam) to snap images of high-altitude clouds drifting in the Martian sky, which it shared on its officially Twitter page on March 23, 2023.Continue reading “Perseverance Sees Drifting Clouds on Mars”
Life might have wiped itself out on early Mars. That’s not as absurd as it sounds; that’s sort of what happened on Earth.
But life on Earth evolved and persisted, while on Mars, it didn’t.Continue reading “Early Life on Mars Might Have Wiped Out Life on Mars”
A little over a week ago (February 18th, 2021), NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on the surface of Mars. In what was truly a media circus, people from all over the world tuned to watch the live coverage of the rover landing. When Perseverance touched down, it wasn’t just the mission controllers at NASA who triumphantly jumped to their feet to cheer and applaud.
In the days that followed, the world was treated to all kinds of media that showed the surface of Mars and the descent. The most recent comes from the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which is part of the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars program. From its vantage point, high above the Martian skies, the TGO caught sight of Perseverance in the Jezero crater and acquired images that show the rover and other elements of its landing vehicle.Continue reading “Perseverance Seen From Space by ESA’s ExoMars Orbiter”
Remote sensing is only useful if scientists have an idea of what they are looking at. That knowledge is especially important for remote sensing applications on other planets, such as Mars, where it is extraordinarily difficult to collect information about an observed object in any other way. To make up for the lack of ability to perform other tests in situ, scientists set up laboratory experiments with different environments and materials and compare the remote sensing data with the observed remote objects.
That is exactly what Jiacheng Liu, a doctoral student at the University of Hong Kong, did with remote sensing data from the surface of Mars. What he found gave new weight to a novel theory – that Mars didn’t used to have a significant amount of oxygen in its atmosphere. The fact that it does now prompts the question of where all the oxygen that exists in the atmosphere today came from. One possible answer is the same place it came from on Earth – photosynthetic life.Continue reading “There’s Evidence That Mars Once Had an Atmosphere With Less Oxygen. A Possible Biosignature For Life?”
Even though Earthling scientists are studying Mars intently, it’s still a mysterious place.
One of the striking things about Mars is all of the evidence, clearly visible on its surface, that it harbored liquid water. Now, all that water is gone, and in fact, liquid water couldn’t survive on the surface of the Red Planet. Not as the planet is now, anyway.
But it could harbour water in the past. What happened?Continue reading “Mars Doesn’t Have Much of a Magnetosphere, But Here’s a Map”
The InSight lander has been on the surface of Mars for about a year, and a half dozen papers were just published outlining some results from the mission. Though InSight’s primary mission is to gather evidence on the interior of Mars—InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport—the lander also keeps track of Martian Meteorology. A new paper reports that InSight has found gravity waves, swirling dust devils, and a steady background rumble of infrasound.Continue reading “InSight has been Sensing Dust Devils Sweep Past its Landing Site”
An atmospheric drama has been playing out on Mars lately. Up until now, the main actor has been methane, and its unusual, spiking behaviour. But now Oxygen is taking the stage, and performing some theatrics of its own.Continue reading “Molecular Oxygen on Mars is Behaving Unusually Through the Seasons. A Sign of Life?”
Springtime on Earth can be a riotous affair, as plants come back to life and creatures large and small get ready to mate. Nothing like that happens on Mars, of course. But even on a cold world like Mars, springtime brings changes, though you have to look a little more closely to see them.
Lucky for us, there are spacecraft orbiting Mars with high-resolution cameras, and we can track the onset of Martian springtime through images.Continue reading “Nothing Says Springtime on Mars Like Explosions of Sand”