The secret story of Mars

Mars is there, waiting to be reached - Buzz Aldrin

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Mars Image
The latest big news from Mars is the discovery of a possible underground lake. | Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU

Mars, the fourth planet in our solar system, has been a source of intrigue for quite a while now. There have been several theories on what its constituents are, and several more on how it could be potentially habitable. Can humans live on Mars? Can Mars support civilization? Is there life form already existing there? Contained within the mysteries of the red planet are the answers to these questions. However, a fair attempt at answering these questions can certainly be made. Read on if you wish to know more about the Red Planet and its mysteries.

Why is Mars being considered?

Mars is the next best candidate in our solar system for supporting life. It exists at a distance that is neither too far nor too near to the Sun. The surface properties, as examined by scientists, also seem to suggest a possibility for the existence of life on the planet. Mars is perhaps the only planet in the solar system that could provide crucial answers about life forms. Understanding the structure and physical properties of Mars is therefore essential. Mars could provide us with the answer to whether life is prevalent in the universe or is exclusive to the Earth.

The proximity and several similarities to Earth make Mars a prime candidate. Most investigations of Mars have been carried out through telescopic observations and probes. Scientists have recognized certain habitability factors whose values could provide us with valuable information to determine whether life can be supported on Mars or not. These habitability factors are water, chemical environment, energy for metabolism and conducive physical conditions. The right combinations of the values for these habitability factors would mean that life can exist on Mars.

If the evidence for the claim that Mars can support life is conclusive enough, it would be groundbreaking. It would allow humanity to expand beyond the constraints imposed by the properties and nature of the Earth.

Similarities to Earth

earth-and-mars
Earth and Mars. Image Source: NASA

The similarities that Mars shares with Earth have been a major reason for all the speculation around its potential to support life. Conditions such as sunlight and temperature are very similar to that of the Earth’s and no other planet or moon in the solar system has a similarity greater than that of Mars with the Earth.

The Martian day, referred to as a sol, is very similar in duration to that of the Earth’s. A Martian day, or, sol, is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds long. The similar duration of the day would enable easier conformity to Mars’s days if humans were to colonize it.

The axial tilt of Mars is also extremely similar to that of the Earth’s. Mars has an axial tilt of 25.19° as opposed to Earth’s axial tilt of 23.44°. This means that seasons on Mars are quite similar to that of seasons on Earth.

Mars also has a large enough surface area to support human colonies. The amount of dry land on Mars is only slightly lesser than the amount of dry land on Earth.

Perhaps, the most significant similarity is the presence of water. Water is where life forms originated from. Water is necessary to sustain life and life would cease to exist if water is absent.

Water on Mars

Perhaps, the most promising sign of the possibility of life on Mars is the existence of water on the planet. There has been conclusive evidence to suggest that water exists on Mars. Presence of water is necessary, but, not a sufficient condition to sustain life. The fact that water exists on Mars is extremely promising and exciting. Most of the water on Mars exists in the form of ice. Some water also exists in the form of vapor in the atmosphere and an even smaller amount exists in the form of liquid.

The polar ice caps on Mars contain the most amount of water. The northern ice cap of Mars is called PlanumBoreum while its southern counterpart is called PlanumAustrale. It is calculated that if all the ice on the southern polar cap melted, it would be sufficient to cover the entire planetary surface of Mars to a depth of 36ft.

The Phoenix lander launched by NASA confirmed the presence of water at the place where it landed in the northern polar ice cap. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took measurements of the ice present in the northern polar cap and estimated that the ice present in the northern ice cap is sufficient to cover the surface of Mars to a depth of 18ft. Several orbiters have also confirmed the presence of water in the form of ice in several craters on the surface of Mars.

Phoenix Lander small
Artist’s concept of the Phoenix Mars lander. (Source: NASA/JPL/Corby Waste)

This shows that water is available in abundance on Mars and could help sustain life on the planet. These discoveries are nothing short of radical and could go a long way in helping humanity understand Mars, which, would enable easier colonization.

Problems that prevent colonization

Mars is several times colder than the Earth. Temperatures could reach drastically low values on Mars which could prove to be detrimental to human life.  The surface temperatures on Mars lies in the range -87°C to -5°C and this certainly would pose a problem to human habitation.

Despite findings of water on Mars, the quantity of water is a source of concern. In order to satiate the needs of the current population on Earth, Mars would need several times the amount of water that it is estimated to have.

Another cause for concern is the toxicity of the Martian atmosphere. Martian atmosphere contains 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen and 1.6% argon. The amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is a meager 0.4% according to estimations. This poses an extremely severe problem.

Mars also has a thin atmosphere that does not block out Ultraviolet radiation coming from the Sun. These radiations are extremely harmful and could cause several deformities in human beings.

The surface gravity of Mars is only 38% of that of the Earth. Lower surface gravity could cause a lot of harm. Problems such as space motion sickness, cardiovascular problems, muscle loss, and bone demineralization could occur in such conditions.

Global dust storms are common throughout the year, on Mars. Surviving these dust storms and their effects on the planet would be an exacting task. These storms could leave the planet covered with dust and prevent sunlight from reaching the surface.

Random Quiz

The following planet(s) has(have) ring around it(them):

Correct! Wrong!

All of the giant planets in our solar system have rings: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Jupiter's ring is thin and dark, and cannot be seen from Earth. Saturn's rings are the most magnificent; they are bright, wide, and colorful.


Seasons and days on Mars

A Martian year roughly equals 686.86 Earth days. The Darian calendar was proposed by Thomas Gangale to aid future human settlers on Mars. Each day is measured in sols. The sol is longer than a day on Earth by 39 minutes and 35 seconds. Each year is 668.59 sols (686.86 days on Earth).

The Darian calendar consists of 24 months. The last month in the calendar is 27 sols generally. If the year is a leap year, then, the last month would have an additional sol and consist of 28 sols. Only three other months have 27 sols, all other months have 28 sols. 

Why has there not been a mission to Mars?

There have been several impeding factors that have prevented missions that aim at the full exploration of Mars. These space programs intended on discovering truths about life and space require extremely large amounts of money.

The notion is that it is moronic to be spending such exorbitant amounts of money and resources on something that could prove to be futile. There is no guaranteeing that the results from these explorations will prove to be positive. Therefore, there is a considerable amount of risk involved with these programs. There are already enough problems on Earth that need addressing and need sorting out. The search for planets that would enable humans to be spacefaring species would prove to be a self-inflicted problem. A problem that is brought upon us during times when there exist other problems that need addressing.

There is no denying that the findings on Mars could be radical and change the course of human history entirely. But, the impeding factors would probably prove to be too powerful to allow for ventures of such proportion to take place.

Mark Zuckerberg, who is the founder of Facebook and the individual who is widely regarded to have revolutionized social media, once said, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks”. He certainly makes a point and maybe, exploration of Mars is a risk that is worth taking. It is certainly a high risk-high reward scenario, but, when the reward is as lucrative as it is in the case of Mars exploration, then, it would almost seem too ridiculous to not take the risk.

Perhaps, it is not worth the effort or the expense to venture onto Mars. The prospect of understanding the universe, on the other hand, makes it worth the risk. The only question that lingers is: Is humanity willing to take a punt and explore Mars, or, is humanity going to be perpetually confined to the curtailments of the Earth?

Read More:

  1. First evidence of planet-wide groundwater system on Mars
  2. SpaceX Has a Bold Timeline for Getting to Mars and Starting a Colony

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