There’s Something About Mars
December 9, 2016
Whether in blockbuster movies, novels, or science classrooms, you may have noticed that the planet Mars occupies a special place in human imagination. If you’ve read Scientists in the Field title The Mighty Mars Rovers, by Elizabeth Rusch, you know that was the case for Steve Squyres, professor of astronomy at Cornell University and lead scientist on the Spirit and Opportunity rover missions detailed in the book.
In Rusch’s book, Squyres talks about how, “after studying geology for a while, I realized that people had figured out a lot of stuff on earth pretty thoroughly.” Looking for a venue where there were more mysteries still to be solved, Squyres became interested in Mars: “Steve stared at one photo in particular: it showed a sunken area in Mars’s red, dusty landscape, with fingerlike valleys flowing into it. To Steve it was obvious that the area had once been a lake.” Whether Mars was once home to bodies of water, when there might have been water on the planet, and just how much water once existed there are some of the questions that have intrigued scientists over the years and inspired exploration by rovers of the red planet.
In his new article, The Mysteries of Mars on National Geographic, Patrick J. Klger discusses the continued fascination with Mars by scientists, highlighting a number of burning questions that are still being investigated. He quotes Kevin Lewis, Johns Hopkins University assistant professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences and a scientist in NASA’s Curiosity Rover mission, as saying, “Mars is a dynamic place. It’s almost like visiting Egypt’s pyramids. We know amazing things happened here once.”
Klger goes on to write specifically about the question of water on Mars: “Mars is the only planet in the solar system—besides Earth, that is—that once had liquid water. Robotic exploration of Mars has led to discoveries—such as perfectly rounded pebbles that most likely were formed by rushing water, and fine-grained sediments similar to those at the bottom of lakes on Earth—that indicate that it once may have had ancient oceans and rivers. Where did all the water go?”
Be sure to check on Klger’s article to get a taste of the mysteries still being solved about this fascinating planet. You’ll be more eager than ever to learn about the exploration of Mars with robotic explorers, including what the presence of water suggests about alien life, in The Mighty Mars Rovers!