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Learn about the similarities between earth and Mars. Also learn about the Mars expeditions to find water on Mars.
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The Similarities Between Mars and Earth
We do not know if life has evolved outside our own planet. Of all the planets in the solar system, it is Mars that has an environment most likely earth.
Like earth, it has a rocky surface and its gravitation is similar in strength to our own planet which means Mars also holds an atmosphere. But does it have water?
For decades, we have been sending probes to mars to learn more about the environment in our neighboring planet. Orbiters, landers and rovers have been to Mars all looking for water, the essential factor needed for life.
Its surface has valleys and desserts but it is dry with an average temperature of 50 degrees below zero. There are signs of erosion that look like they could have been carved by water. An Olympus Mons the highest mountain in the solar system is a volcano but is it still active?
In 2001, Mars Odyssey went into orbit around the red planet. One of its tasks was to map the planet’s geological composition. Mars Odyssey’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer could detect the presence of 20 elements and its neutron detectors would look for water and ice in the soil.
Planetary geologists already knew Mars’s ice caps were frozen carbon dioxide and the search for Martian water would focus on the poles.
Odyssey’s instruments found strong indications that water ice laid just below some parts of the planet’s surface. The space craft was directed to look for chemical evidence of water which should be recognizable because of its high hydrogen content.
Hydrogen quickly combined with other the elements. So if it is found on a cold of planet, it is very likely to have teamed up with oxygen to form water.
Researchers were surprised to get such a strong indication that ice was present but they could not be certain about exactly how much water was there.
Estimates varied between enough water to fill several large lakes to a frozen underground ocean. Odyssey’s sensors could not show how far down the ice extended and skeptic said the probes findings were circumstantial and could be explained by other factors.
The planet’s poles were giving indications of an abundance of ice but the international team of scientist was concerned that much more work would need to be done to confirm that Odyssey’s instrument had really found evidence of water ice.
Scientists became fascinated by what finding made for the understanding of the weather and geology of Mars. It seems to have once had water on the surface—lots of it. There are places that look like dried up lake so as seabeds.
Researchers began speculating that liquid water could exist in deep canyons. Work began on new Mars missions that could positively identify water or ice on the planet.
The European Space Agency was preparing a two part craft. Mars Express would go into orbit around the red planet and release a landing craft called Beagle 2. And the United States was working on a pair of rovers.
The space craft would land at different sites that appeared to have been affected by liquid water. They would be able to analyze rocks and soil. And being mobile, they would be able to seek out interesting features.
To refine a rover design, the American space agency NASA took a prototype to the Atacama Desert in Chile. It is the driest place on earth. Rainfall is measured in millimeters per decade. Though it’s much warmer than Mars, it’s the best place on our planet to test the Mars rover.
Zoe is pioneering new technologies of both robot mechanics and ways to detect the life. Cameras act as eyes to track the terrain and she is powered by solar panels.
By understanding the abstract limits of life on earth, scientists hoped their search for life on other planets such as Mars will be more likely to succeed.
The rover must be able to act with a degree of autonomy that allows it to solve problems in plotting a path to its target area.
Each morning, a remote team gives the instructions for the days work. On this day, the test are centering on testing Zoe’s skill at negotiating difficult terrain.
To remotely control such a vehicle, it’s not viable. Because Mars is at such a great distance from earth, the control signals would lag too much to be of any use.
Zoe is equipped with instruments to collect soil. It can detect samples worthy of further investigation by flashing different wavelengths of light at the surface it is passing over. Some natural organic materials like chlorophyll or the nucleotide ATP -. If they are present in the soil, Zoe can detect them.
During the nights, the rovers stay in the field just as the Mars rover would. It’s all part of the testing of the next generation of autonomous exploration vehicles. Lessons learned in the field are applied to the rovers being prepared for the trip to Mars.
NASA’s two rovers named Spirit and Opportunity were being readied for launch in mid-2003. This was a popular year for Mars missions. In that year, Mars pass closer to earth than it had in the previous 60,000 years. In Japan, the United States and Europe would all launch Mars probes.
The rovers are solar powered robots. They have six wheels mounted on a rocker bogie suspension system that insures they remain on the ground when driving over rough terrain.
A panoramic camera and a monochrome navigation camera are mounted on a mast while four hazard cameras are amounted at the corners of the vehicle. Each wheel has its own motor with the front and rear wheel having steering motors allowing the rover to rotate on the spot.
Average speed is 10 millimeters per second because the hazard avoidance software causes it to stop every 10 seconds for 20 seconds to understand a new piece of ground it has driven on to.
A duplicate rover was tested in the field to look for unforeseen problems that could arise in an uncontrolled environment.
Meanwhile, scientist from NASA’s Astrobiology Institute was studying ancient formations called stromatolites. These are layered rocky structures that result when blue-green algae trap finds sediment.
For the first three and a half billion years of life on earth, stromatolites were the dominant life form. Studying these organisms could help NASA identify the unique atmospheric conditions created by primitive life on other planets.
The stromatolites and other colonies are single-celled organisms were marooned in these Mexican lakes when the sea retreated more than 100 million years ago preserving the life forms that thrived on the early earth. It was these primitive organism that added oxygen to the atmosphere allowing it to support the more complex forms of life that emerged.
NASA’s hunch is that early Mars could have been populated by similar colonies of primitive bacteria. The indications of these life forms are preserved in rock formations and the astrobiology team took a range of gas ratings, cell and chemical samples from the formations which look like clumps of coral dropped into the dessert.
If evidence that liquid water once existed on Mars can be found, then there is a chance that similar primitive life forms may have evolved there.