Mars is one of my favorite planets. This terrestrial world brims with spirit and beauty. I’ve always dreamed of being an astronaut and of going there, which leads me to ponder the Red Planet—the intriguing qualities of Mars.
We see it clearly in the night sky, shining like a bright red star. For centuries, people have gazed up at the fourth planet from the sun, and marveled about its mysteries. Mars is named after the Roman god of war, which gives me a special fondness for it, being that it’s the planetary ruler of my astrological sign, Aries.
The Red Planet gets its color from dusty iron oxide that’s prevalent on the planet. Of all the planets in our Solar System, it’s the most Earth-like, both having elliptical orbits and similar axial tilts. The distance from Earth to Mars constantly changes due to their orbits, but on average, it’s about 140 million miles (225 kilometers) away—our close neighbor.
The proximity of Mars makes for prime inspiration for Science Fiction. This innocent world became notorious in H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds (1898) and then later in the 1938 Orson Wells The War of the Worlds radio drama, an adaptation of the novel that caused a panic, the listeners believing that beastly Martians were invading to destroy us. We now know that there aren’t aliens there—unless they’re very a good at hiding—but could there be microbial life?
Mars is currently host to five functioning NASA spacecraft: three in orbit—the Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; and two on the surface—Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity and the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity.
Mars appears to have significant quantities of all the elements necessary to support Earth-based life. The Phoenix lander, which completed its mission in 2008, returned data showing that the Marian soil contains elements such as magnesium, sodium, potassium and chlorine, nutrients found in gardens on Earth and necessary for the growth of plants. It’s suspected that large quantities of water ice are trapped within the thick cryosphere, and landforms visible on Mars strongly suggest that liquid water has existed on the planets’ surface. Perhaps, in the Martian past, oceans flowed?
Exciting new discoveries arise all the time. Just recently, NASA-funded researchers identified a meteorite from Mars, found in the Sahara Desert, that contains ten times more water than other Martian meteorites. This suggests stronger evidence that liquid water once flowed, that the planet once was much wetter and warmer.
And, the rover Curiosity, in the ‘Yellowknife Bay’ area of Mars, has just hit the ‘jackpot’, finding rocks with veins composed of hydrated calcium sulfate, which requires circulating water to form. Curiosity is preparing to drill into the rock to collect a sample, a task that has never been done there before.
Later this year, NASA is scheduled to launch MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN), the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. MAVEN will investigate the thin atmosphere to see how much of it has been lost over time, and the role the loss has played in changing the climate. Where did the atmosphere—and the water—go? By terraforming Mars, could we bring it back?
I believe it will be possible to terraform this planet, and one day make Mars our second home.
A manned mission to Mars is in the works, planned for the 2030s. The 2030s are not that far away. We have the technology to go there. Humankind’s dream of touching Mars is in our grasp.
In the future, it’s highly conceivable that Mars will become a colonized world, a stepping-stone into deep space.
How exciting! What would it be like to journey to Mars? What new discoveries are waiting there for us? Who knows what we’ll find!
Being that I’m a writer and not an astronaut, I’ll have to be satisfied with exploring Mars in upcoming posts.
The Red Planet truly is a world of beauty, full of new possibilities and, perhaps, a home for future generations.
That, to me, makes Mars a very intriguing planet.
Isn’t Mars exciting?
More Info About Mars:
Mars Exploration Program: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/
War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds