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Category Archives: Mars

Ancient Mars Had Planet-Wide Rainstorms So Intense They Breached Its Lakes – ScienceAlert

Posted: August 26, 2020 at 3:50 pm

Billions of years ago, rain once fell on the Martian plain, and not always softly.

New research on the Red Planet's now-empty lakes suggests a huge amount of liquid water must have spilled from the skies roughly 3.5 to 4 billion years ago, enough to sculpt river-like channels and breach several lake basins.

"This is extremely important because 3.5 to 4 billion years ago Mars was covered with water. It had lots of rain or snowmelt to fill those channels and lakes," says planetary scientist Gaia Stucky de Quay from the University of Texas.

Modelling what Mars' climate looked like all those years ago is incredibly difficult, but studies on the geomorphology and chemistry of the planet certainly suggest it was once home to an abundance of water, fed by both rainfall and snowmelt.

Scientists aren't sure how long these downpours lasted or whether the weather was torrential, a drizzle or a mix, but marks on the surface of Mars suggest there were once heavy enough showers to leave a lasting impression.

"Now it's completely dry," says Stucky de Quay.

"We're trying to understand how much water was there and where did it all go."

Using satellite images and topography, researchers examined 96 lake basins on Mars that are thought to have formed all those billions of years ago. Some of the basins had ruptured from overflowing water, known as open basins, while others remain intact, known as closed basins.

By measuring these lakes and their watersheds, the team was able to show how much rainfall and snowmelt would have been needed to fill the intact basins without breaching them, while simultaneously overflowing the open basins.

In cases where a closed and open basin were fed by the same river, researchers could predict both the maximum and minimum rainfall that might have fallen in a single event.

In just one rainstorm, which could have lasted for days or even thousands of years, researchers estimate precipitation on Mars fell somewhere between 4 and 159 meters (13 and 520 feet).

While the effects can be seen planet-wide, not all areas were impacted equally. Some open-basin lakes were in regions that would be considered 'semi arid' on Earth, so they probably received less water than more humid parts.

"We again stress that our constraints are based on a threshold - not cumulative - event (i.e., lake overflow) that must have occurred during a single, quasi-continuous runoff episode, which may have recurred multiple times," the authors write.

"Indeed, the inlet valleys' large erosional volumes require cumulative water volumes that generally exceed lake basin volumes, thus suggesting repeated runoff episodes "

In other words, the deeper channels being driven to the lakes were probably chiselled out over several downpours, which would probably have flooded the lakes on several occasions.

Recently, however, some scientists have suggested these valleys were not carved simply by water, and by overestimating the impact of rainfall, we might be miscalculating the rainfall itself.

Nevertheless, the authors think these new insights into precipitation and aridity could help improve and test our climate models for the Red Planet, but they admit their findings are just a piece in the bigger puzzle.

Understanding the climate evolution of Mars will be key to assessing its potential for harbouring life, and that's why the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is making its way to a lake bed right now.

The study was published in Geology.

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Follow NASAs Perseverance rover in real time as it heads toward Mars – Digital Trends

Posted: at 3:50 pm

Did you know you can track the progress of NASAs Perseverance rover in real time as it travels tens of millions of miles toward Mars?

This weekend NASA pointed space fans to its interactive Eyes on the Solar System desktop app that lets you track the current location of the Mars 2020 rover, among a bunch of other awesome features.

Eyes on the Solar System visualizes the same trajectory data that the navigation team uses to plot Perseverances course to Mars, said Fernando Abilleira, the Mars 2020 mission design and navigation manager at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, adding, If you want to follow along with us on our journey, thats the place to be.

Perseverance, which began its mammoth journey aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 30, is scheduled to reach the Martian surface in February 2021.

Besides revealing the precise distance between the red planet and the spacecraft at any given moment, the app also lets you fly in formation with Perseverance, or check the relative velocity between Mars and Earth or, say, the dwarf planet Pluto. Other controls let you compare the size of the rover with a human, a school bus, and a sports stadium.

The Eyes on the Solar System app also lets you travel throughout the solar system and even through time, with lots of interesting information also offered on other NASA missions.

The app features a simple mode with tabs for destinations, missions, news, and people, and an advanced mode offering lots of customization options. It even has a 3D mode where if you have a pair of red-cyan anaglyph glasses handy you can enjoy an even more immersive experience.

With all our orbital assets circling Mars as well as Curiosity and InSight on its surface, there is new data and imagery coming in all the time about the red planet, said Jon Nelson, visualization technology and applications development supervisor at JPL. Essentially, if you havent seen Mars lately through Eyes on the Solar System, you havent seen Mars.

To locate Perseverances current position, click on the sliders icon at the bottom right of the apps display, then use the scroll wheel on your mouse (or the wheel at the right end of the control panel) to zoom in toward Earth. When Mars 2020 appears, click on it to zoom in further, and then use the buttons in the control panel to find out more.

When it reaches the Martian surface, Perseverance will search for signs of ancient life, gather rock and soil samples for return to Earth, and collect data for future human exploration of the distant planet. Its also carrying a small helicopter-like machine called Ingenuity thats set to become the first aircraft to fly on another planet.

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Follow NASAs Perseverance rover in real time as it heads toward Mars - Digital Trends

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Planetwide Storms May Have Filled Lakes, Rivers on Ancient Mars – Astrobiology Magazine

Posted: at 3:50 pm

New research from The University of Texas at Austin has used dry Martian lake beds to determine how much precipitation was present on the ancient planet.

A new study from The University of Texas at Austin is helping scientists piece together the ancient climate of Mars by revealing how much rainfall and snowmelt filled its lake beds and river valleys 3.5 billion to 4 billion years ago.

The study, published inGeology, represents the first time that researchers have quantified the precipitation that must have been present across the planet, and it comes out as the Mars 2020 Perseverancerover is making its way to the red planet to land in one of the lake beds crucial to this new research.

The ancient climate of Mars is something of an enigma to scientists. To geologists, the existence of riverbeds and paleolakes eons-old lake basins paints a picture of a planet with significant rainfall or snowmelt. But scientists who specialize in computer climate models of the planet have been unable to reproduce an ancient climate with large amounts of liquid water present for long enough to account for the observed geology.

This is extremely important because 3.5 to 4 billion years ago Mars was covered with water. It had lots of rain or snowmelt to fill those channels and lakes, said lead author Gaia Stucky de Quay, a postdoctoral fellow at UTs Jackson School of Geosciences. Now its completely dry. Were trying to understand how much water was there and where did it all go.

Although scientists have found large amounts of frozen water on Mars, no significant amount of liquid water currently exists.

In the study, researchers found that precipitation must have been between 13 and 520 feet (4 to 159 meters) in a single episode to fill the lakes and, in some cases, provide enough water to overflow and breach the lake basins. Although the range is large, it can be used to help understand which climate models are accurate, Stucky de Quay said.

Its a huge cognitive dissonance, she said. Climate models have trouble accounting for that amount of liquid water at that time. Its like, liquid water is not possible, but it happened. This is the knowledge gap that our work is trying to fill in.

The scientists looked at 96 open-basin and closed-basin lakes and their watersheds, all thought to have formed between 3.5 billion and 4 billion years ago. Open lakes are those that have ruptured by overflowing water; closed ones, on the other hand, are intact. Using satellite images and topography, they measured lake and watershed areas, and lake volumes, and accounted for potential evaporation to figure out how much water was needed to fill the lakes.

By looking at ancient closed and open lakes, and the river valleys that fed them, the team was able to determine a minimum and maximum precipitation. The closed lakes offer a glimpse at the maximum amount of water that could have fallen in a single event without breaching the side of the lake basin. The open lakes show the minimum amount of water required to overtop the lake basin, causing the water to rupture a side and rush out.

In 13 cases, researchers discovered coupled basins containing one closed and one open basin that were fed by the same river valleys which offered key evidence of both maximum and minimum precipitation in one single event.

Another great unknown is how long the rainfall or snowmelt episode must have lasted: days, years or thousands of years. Thats the next step of the research, Stucky de Quay said.

As this research is published, NASA recently launched Mars 2020PerseveranceRover to visit Jezero crater, which contains one of the open lake beds used in the study. Co-author Tim Goudge, an assistant professor in the UT Jackson School Department of Geological Sciences, was the lead scientific advocate for the landing site. He said the data collected by the crater could be significant for determining how much water was on Mars and whether there are signs of past life.

Gaias study takes previously identified closed and open lake basins, but applies a clever new approach to constrain how much precipitation these lakes experienced, Goudge said. Not only do these results help us to refine our understanding of the ancient Mars climate, but they also will be a great resource for putting results from the Mars 2020PerseveranceRover into a more global context.

This study was supported by a grant through NASAs Mars Data Analysis Program.

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UAE’s Mars probe has covered 20% of its journey in a month – Khaleej Times

Posted: at 3:50 pm

Hope, the first interplanetary mission of the Arab world, blasted off from Japan's Tanegashima Space Centre on July 20.

The UAE's Hope probe has crossed the 100-million-km milestone as it cruises towards the Red Planet. This means that the probe has covered a fifth of its 493-million-km journey within a month after it was launched.

"In less than 170 days, we will celebrate the probe's entry into the Red Planet's orbit. It will be a path-breaking achievement in the history of global Mars missions," said His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

He took to Twitter on Monday to share images of three planets - Mars, Saturn and Jupiter - as captured by the probe's 'Star Tracker'. "Mars, as demonstrated in the image captured by the probe's Star Tracker, is ahead of us, leaving Saturn and Jupiter behind," Sheikh Mohammed tweeted. "The Hope probe is expected to arrive to Mars in February 2021."

He noted that the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) will create "a giant leap" in the country's space technologies and open new horizons towards other space missions.

"The next phase requires investments in science for the benefit of mankind. We need young people to lead us towards further scientific breakthroughs."

All clear for success

Hope, the first interplanetary mission of the Arab world, blasted off from Japan's Tanegashima Space Centre on July 20. And since then, it has been on an "outstandingly accurate trajectory", according to the EMM.

It fired its thrusters for the first time last week, directly targeting its Mars capture orbit and crossing a major milestone in its seven-month journey. The spacecraft successfully completed TCM1 - its first trajectory correction manoeuvre (TCM), a crucial process in keeping it on the right direction towards Mars.

The probe will perform a number of further trajectory control manoeuvres to reach its scheduled Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI).

Currently travelling at a speed ranging between 110,400km/h to 122,400km/h, the probe has covered 20 per cent of its journey - equivalent to 130 trips from the Earth to the Moon.

The probe will automatically reduce its speed to 18,000km/h as it gets closer to Mars.

It will provide the first truly global picture of the Martian atmosphere. With the help of its instruments, it will provide answers to long-standing questions about the Red Planet as it will be the first to study the Martian climate throughout daily and seasonal cycles. It will observe the weather phenomena such as the massive famous dust storms that have been known to engulf the planet, as compared to the short and localised dust storms on earth.

The probe will examine the interaction between the upper and lower layers of the Martian atmosphere and causes of the planet's surface corrosion. It will also study why Mars is losing its upper atmosphere.

Success story

The EMM team, which includes 200 Emirati engineers and specialists, had built the orbiter in six years, at half the duration and cost of conventional missions.

A team of Emirati experts are tracking the Mars orbiter's journey at the ground station of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center located at Al Khawaneej. The team is supervising the probe's control operations, and receiving signals and data from the probe.

Once it enters the Red Planet's orbit, the probe will send back more than 1,000 gigabytes of new Mars data to be shared with over 200 research centres for free.

The mission's wider objective involves inspiring youth across the world to pursue science-based fields and spark their interest in technology, space engineering and advanced sciences.

So far, the mission has attracted 60,000 students to join its diverse educational programmes, developed 200 new technologies and helped publish 51 research papers and build 66 parts of the probe in the UAE.

Staff Reporter

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Mars Petcare India appoints Pitchfork Partners as their strategic communication consultant – The Financial Express

Posted: at 3:50 pm

Mars Petcare India, part of Mars, Incorporated, has appointed Pitchfork Partners Strategic Consulting as its strategic communication consultant for India. As part of its growth strategy in India, the pet care company will work closely with Pitchfork Partners to build corporate reputation and engage with relevant stakeholders.

According to Ganesh Ramani, general manager, Mars Petcare, Pitchfork Partners shares the companys beliefs and values around pet and animal welfare, bringing extensive stakeholder relationships and communication expertise to the business. The agency, after an analysis of business needs will align communication to business goals, championing reputation building, management and protection.

For Jaideep Shergill, co-founder, Pitchfork Partners, pet nutrition and needs is a category that needs more knowledge dissemination. This is an opportunity to bridge that gap. Mars Petcare is committed to making a better world for pets, and we are committed to helping the company achieve its business goals through strategic and insights-driven communication, he added.

Part of Mars, Incorporated, Mars Petcare is a pet food company, serving over 400 million pets across the world through nutrition, health and veterinary services. The companys portfolio of almost 50 brands serves the health and nutrition needs of the worlds pets including brands Pedigree, Whiskas, Royal Canin, Nutro, Greenies, Sheba, Cesar, IAMS and Eukanuba as well as the Waltham Petcare Science Institute which has advanced research. Mars Petcare is also a veterinary health provider through an international network of over 2,000 pet hospitals and diagnostic services including Banfield, Bluepearl, VCA, Linnaeus, AniCura and Antech.

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NASAs Mars Exploration Program

Posted: July 21, 2020 at 12:46 pm

Astrobiology is a relatively new field of study, where scientists from a variety of disciplines (astronomy, biology, geology, physics, etc.) work together to understand the potential for life to exist beyond Earth. However, the exploration of Mars has been intertwined with NASAs search for life from the beginning. The twin Viking landers of 1976 were NASAs first life detection mission, and although the results from the experiments failed to detect life in the Martian regolith, and resulted in a long period with fewer Mars missions, it was not the end of the fascination that the Astrobiology science community had for the red planet.

The field of Astrobiology saw a resurgence due to the controversy surrounding the possible fossil life in the ALH84001 meteorite, and from the outsized public response to this announcement, and subsequent interest from Congress and the White House, NASAs Astrobiology Program ( )and one of its major programs, the NASA Astrobiology Institute ( ) were formed.

Also at this time, NASAs Mars Exploration Program began to investigate Mars with an increasing focus on missions to the Red Planet. The Pathfinder mission and Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) were sent to Mars to Follow the Water, recognizing that liquid water is necessary for life to exist on Earth. After establishing that Mars once had significant amount of water on its surface, the Mars Science Laboratory (which includes the Curiosity rover) was sent to Mars to determine whether Mars had the right ingredients in the rocks to host life, signaling a shift to the next theme of Explore Habitability. MEP is now developing the Mars 2020 rover mission ( ) to determine whether life may have left telltale signatures in the rocks on Marss surface, a further shift to the current science theme Seek the Signs of Life.

Finding fossils preserved from early Mars might tell us that life once flourished on this planet. We can search for evidence of cells preserved in rocks, or at a much smaller scale: compounds called biosignatures are molecular fossils, specific compounds that give some indication of the organisms that created them. However, over hundreds of millions of years these molecular fossils on Mars are subject to being destroyed or transformed to the point where they may no longer be recognized as biosignatures. Future missions must either find surface regions where erosion from wind-blown sand has recently exposed very ancient material, or alternately samples must be obtained from a shielded region beneath the surface. This latter approach is being taken by the ExoMars rover ( ) under development where drilled samples taken from a depth of up to 2 meters will be analyzed.

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NASAs Mars Exploration Program

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Overview | Mars NASA Solar System Exploration

Posted: at 12:46 pm

The fourth planet from the Sun, Mars is a dusty, cold, desert world with a very thin atmosphere.

This dynamic planet has seasons, polar ice caps and weather and canyons and extinct volcanoes, evidence it was once an even more active past.

Mars is one of the most explored bodies in our solar system, and it's the only planet where we've sent rovers to roam the alien landscape. NASA currently has three spacecraft in orbit, one rover and one lander on the surface. India and ESA also have spacecraft in orbit above Mars. These robotic explorers have found lots of evidence that Mars was much wetter and warmer, with a thicker atmosphere, billions of years ago. NASA plans to send the next-generation Perseverance rover to Mars this summer.

Go farther. Explore Mars In Depth

Ten Things to Know About Mars

10 Need-to-Know Things About Mars


If the Sun were as tall as a typical front door, Earth would be the size of a dime, and Mars would be about as big as an aspirin tablet.


Mars orbits our Sun, a star. Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun at an average distance of about 228 million km (142 million miles) or 1.52 AU.


One day on Mars takes a little over 24 hours. Mars makes a complete orbit around the Sun (a year in Martian time) in 687 Earth days.


Mars is a rocky planet. Its solid surface has been altered by volcanoes, impacts, winds, crustal movement and chemical reactions.


Mars has a thin atmosphere made up mostly of carbon dioxide (CO2), argon (Ar), nitrogen (N2), and a small amount of oxygen and water vapor.


Mars has two moons named Phobos and Deimos.


There are no rings around Mars.


Several missions have visited this planet, from flybys and orbiters to rovers on the surface.The first true Mars mission success was the Mariner 4 flyby in 1965.


At this time, Mars' surface cannot support life as we know it. Current missions are determining Mars' past and future potential for life.


Mars is known as the Red Planet because iron minerals in the Martian soil oxidize, or rust, causing the soil and atmosphere to look red.

Humans to Mars

NASA's latest robotic mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020, aims to help future astronauts brave that inhospitable landscape.

While the science goal of the Mars 2020 rover is to look for signs of ancient life it will be the first spacecraft to collect samples of the Martian surface, caching them in tubes that could be returned to Earth on a future mission the vehicle also includes technology that paves the way for human exploration of Mars.

Robotic explorers, like the Mars 2020 rover, have long served as pathfinders to get humans into space, to the Moon and, eventually, the the surface of the Red Planet.

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Pop Culture

No other planet has captured our collective imagination quite like Mars.

In the late 1800s when people first observed the canal-like features on Mars' surface, many speculated that an intelligent alien species resided there. This led to numerous stories about Martians, some of whom invade Earth, like in the 1938 radio drama, The War of the Worlds. According to an enduring urban legend, many listeners believed the story to be real news coverage of an invasion, causing widespread panic.

Countless stories since have taken place on Mars or explored the possibilities of its Martian inhabitants. Movies like Total Recall (1990 and 2012) take us to a terraformed Mars and a struggling colony running out of air. A Martian colony and Earth have a prickly relationship in The Expanse television series and novels.

And in the 2014 novel and and its 2015 movie adaptation, The Martian, botanist Mark Whatney is stranded alone on the planet and struggles to survive until a rescue mission can retrieve him.

Kid-Friendly Mars

Kid-Friendly Mars

Mars is a cold desert world. It is half the size of Earth. Mars is sometimes called the Red Planet. It's red because of rusty iron in the ground.

Like Earth, Mars has seasons, polar ice caps, volcanoes, canyons, and weather. It has a very thin atmosphere made of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon.

There are signs of ancient floods on Mars, but now water mostly exists in icy dirt and thin clouds. On some Martian hillsides, there is evidence of liquid salty water in the ground.

Visit NASA SpacePlace for more kid-friendly facts.


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Overview | Mars NASA Solar System Exploration

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Mars Facts – Interesting Facts about Planet Mars

Posted: at 12:46 pm

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and is the second smallest planet in the solar system. Named after the Roman god of war, Mars is also often described as the Red Planet due to its reddish appearance. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere composed primarily of carbon dioxide.

Mars has two small moons, Phobos and Deimos. They were discovered in 1877 by astronomer Asaph Hall, who named them for the Latin terms fear and panic. These moons are thought to be captured asteroids and are among the smallest natural satellites in the solar system.

Mars has the largest volcano in the solar system Olympus Mons. It measures some 600 kilometres across and rises nearly 27 kilometres above the surrounding terrain. It is a shield volcano built by the continuous action of flowing lava over millions and millions of years that began some 3 billion years ago.

Olympus Mons is part of a complex of volcanoes that lie along a volcanic plateau called the Tharsis Bulge. This entire region lies over a hotspot, a place in the planets crust that allows magma from deep inside to flow out to the surface.

The Valles Marineris is an extensive canyon system on the Mars equator. It is 4,200 kilometres long and, in places, is 7 kilometres deep. On Earth, it would span the entire North American continent and beyond.

Mars has has a very primitive form of plate tectonics, and the action of two plates past each other began splitting the surface some 3.5 billion years ago. That set the stage for the formation of the Valles Marineris.

Sources: ,, First Published: June 2012Last Updated: May 2020Author: Chris Jones

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Mars Facts: Life, Water and Robots on the Red Planet | Space

Posted: at 12:46 pm

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun. Befitting the Red Planet's bloody color, the Romans named it after their god of war. In truth, the Romans copied the ancient Greeks, who also named the planet after their god of war, Ares. Other civilizations also typically gave the planet names based on its color for example, the Egyptians named it "Her Desher," meaning "the red one," while ancient Chinese astronomers dubbed it "the fire star."

The bright rust color Mars is known for is due toiron-rich mineralsin its regolith the loose dust and rock covering its surface. The soil of Earth is a kind of regolith, too, albeit one loaded with organic content. According to NASA, the iron minerals oxidize, or rust, causing the soil to look red.

Thecold, thin atmospheremeans liquid water likely cannot exist on the Martian surface for any length of time. Features called recurring slope lineae may have spurts of briny water flowing on the surface, but this evidence is disputed; some scientists argue the hydrogen spotted from orbit in this region may instead indicate briny salts. This means that although this desert planet is just half the diameter of Earth, it has the same amount of dry land.

The Red Planet is home to both the highest mountain and the deepest, longest valley in the solar system.Olympus Monsis roughly 17 miles (27 kilometers) high, about three times as tall as Mount Everest, while theValles Marineris system of valleys named after the Mariner 9 probe that discovered it in 1971 reaches as deep as 6 miles (10 km) and runs east-west for roughly 2,500 miles (4,000 km), about one-fifth of the distance around Mars and close to the width of Australia.

Scientists think the Valles Marineris formed mostly by rifting of the crust as it got stretched. Individual canyons within the system are as much as 60 miles (100 km) wide. The canyons merge in the central part of the Valles Marineris in a region as much as 370 miles (600 km) wide. Large channels emerging from the ends of some canyons and layered sediments within suggest the canyons might once have been filled with liquid water.

Mars also has the largest volcanoes in the solar system, Olympus Mons being one of them. The massive volcano, which is about 370 miles (600 km) in diameter, is wide enough to cover the state of New Mexico. Olympus Mons is a shield volcano, with slopes that rise gradually like those of Hawaiian volcanoes, and was created by eruptions of lavas that flowed for long distances before solidifying. Mars also has many other kinds of volcanic landforms, from small, steep-sided cones to enormous plains coated in hardened lava. Some minor eruptions might still occur on the planet.

Channels, valleys and gullies are found all over Mars, and suggest that liquid water might have flowed across the planet's surface in recent times. Some channels can be 60 miles (100 km) wide and 1,200 miles (2,000 km) long.Water may still lie in cracks and pores in underground rock. A study by scientists in 2018 suggested that salty water below the Martian surface could hold a considerable amount of oxygen, which would support microbial life. However, the amount of oxygen depends on temperature and pressure; temperature changes on Mars from time to time as the tilt of its rotation axis shifts.

Many regions of Mars are flat, low-lying plains. The lowest of the northern plains are among the flattest, smoothest places in the solar system, potentially created by water that once flowed across the Martian surface. The northern hemisphere mostly lies at a lower elevation than the southern hemisphere, suggesting the crust may be thinner in the north than in the south. This difference between the north and south might be due to a very large impact shortly after the birth of Mars.

The number of craters on Mars varies dramatically from place to place, depending on how old the surface is. Much of the surface of the southern hemisphere is extremely old, and so has many craters including the planet's largest, 1,400-mile-wide (2,300 km) Hellas Planitia while that of northern hemisphere is younger and so has fewer craters. Some volcanoes also have a few craters, which suggests they erupted recently, with the resulting lava covering up any old craters. Some craters have unusual-looking deposits of debris around them resembling solidified mudflows, potentially indicating that the impactor hit underground water or ice.

In 2018, the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft detected what could be a slurry of water and grains underneath icy Planum Australe. (Some reports describe it as a "lake," but it's unclear how much regolith is inside the water.) This body of water is said to be about 12.4 miles (20 km) across. Its underground location is reminiscent of similar underground lakes in Antarctica, which have been found to host microbes. Late in the year, Mars Express also spied a huge, icy zone in the Red Planet's Korolev Crater.

Vast deposits of what appear to be finely layered stacks of water ice and dust extend from the poles to latitudes of about 80 degrees in both hemispheres. These were probably deposited by the atmosphere over long spans of time. On top of much of these layered deposits in both hemispheres are caps of water ice that remain frozen year-round.

Additional seasonal caps of frost appear in the wintertime. These are made of solid carbon dioxide, also known as "dry ice," which has condensed from carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. In the deepest part of the winter, this frost can extend from the poles to latitudes as low as 45 degrees, or halfway to the equator. Thedry ice layerappears to have a fluffy texture, like freshly fallen snow, according to a report in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets.

Mars is much colder than Earth, in large part due to its greater distance from the sun. Theaverage temperatureis about minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 degrees Celsius), although it can vary from minus 195 F (minus 125 C) near the poles during the winter to as much as 70 F (20 C) at midday near the equator.

The carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere of Mars is also about 100 times less dense than Earth's on average, but it is nevertheless thick enough to support weather, clouds and winds. The density of the atmosphere varies seasonally, as winter forces carbon dioxide to freeze out of the Martian air. In the ancient past, the atmosphere was likely thicker and able to support water flowing on its surface. Over time, lighter molecules in the Martian atmosphere escaped under pressure from the solar wind, which affected the atmosphere because Mars does not have a global magnetic field. This process is being studied today by NASA's MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) mission.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found the first definitive detections ofcarbon-dioxide snow clouds, making Mars the only body in the solar system known to host such unusual winter weather. The Red Planet also causes water-ice snow to fall from the clouds.

The dust storms on Mars are the largest in the solar system, capable of blanketing the entire Red Planet and lasting for months. One theory as to why dust storms can grow so big on Mars is because the airborne dust particles absorb sunlight, warming the Martian atmosphere in their vicinity. Warm pockets of air then flow toward colder regions, generating winds. Strong winds lift more dust off the ground, which, in turn, heats the atmosphere, raising more wind and kicking up more dust.

The axis of Mars, like Earth's, is tilted with relation to the sun. This means that like Earth, the amount of sunlight falling on certain parts of the Red Planet can vary widely during the year, giving Mars seasons.

Related: How Long Does It Take to Get to Mars

However, the seasons that Mars experiences are more extreme than Earth's because the Red Planet's elliptical, oval-shaped orbit around the sun is more elongated than that of any of the other major planets. When Mars is closest to the sun, its southern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, giving it a short, very hot summer, while the northern hemisphere experiences a short, cold winter. When Mars is farthest from the sun, the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, giving it a long, mild summer, while the southern hemisphere experiences a long, cold winter.

The tilt of the Red Planet's axis swings wildly over time because it's not stabilized by a large moon, such as Earth is. This led to different climates on the Martian surface throughout its history. A 2017 study suggests that the changing tilt also influenced therelease of methaneinto Mars' atmosphere, causing temporary warming periods that allowed water to flow.

Facts about Mars' orbit:

Average distance from the sun: 141,633,260 miles (227,936,640 km). By comparison: 1.524 times that of Earth.

Perihelion (closest): 128,400,000 miles (206,600,000 km). By comparison: 1.404 times that of Earth.

Aphelion (farthest): 154,900,000 miles (249,200,000 km). By comparison: 1.638 times that of Earth.

Atmospheric composition (by volume)

According to NASA, the atmosphere of Mars is 95.32 percent carbon dioxide, 2.7 percent nitrogen, 1.6 percent argon, 0.13 percent oxygen, 0.08 percent carbon monoxide, with minor amounts of water, nitrogen oxide, neon, hydrogen-deuterium-oxygen, krypton and xenon.

Magnetic field

Mars currently has no global magnetic field, but there are regions of its crust that can be at least 10 times more strongly magnetized than anything measured on Earth, which suggests those regions are remnants of an ancient global magnetic field.

Chemical composition

Mars likely has a solid core composed of iron, nickel and sulfur. The mantle of Mars is probably similar to Earth's in that it is composed mostly of peridotite, which is made up primarily of silicon, oxygen, iron and magnesium. The crust is probably largely made of the volcanic rock basalt, which is also common in the crusts of the Earth and the moon, although some crustal rocks, especially in the northern hemisphere, may be a form of andesite, a volcanic rock that contains more silica than basalt does.

Internal structure

Scientists think that on average, the Martian core is between 1,800 and 2,400 miles in diameter (3,000 and 4,000 km), its mantle is about 900 to 1,200 miles (5,400 to 7,200 km) wide and its crust is about 30 miles (50 km) thick.

The twomoons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, were discovered by American astronomer Asaph Hall over the course of a week in 1877. Hall had almost given up his search for a moon of Mars, but his wife, Angelina, urged him on. He discovered Deimos the next night, and Phobos six days after that. He named the moons after the sons of the Greek war god Ares Phobos means "fear," while Deimos means "rout."

Both Phobos and Deimos are apparently made of carbon-rich rock mixed with ice and are covered in dust and loose rocks. They are tiny next to Earth's moon, and are irregularly shaped, since they lack enough gravity to pull themselves into a more circular form. The widestPhobosgets is about 17 miles (27 km), and the widest Deimos gets is roughly 9 miles (15 km).

Both moons are pockmarked with craters from meteor impacts. The surface of Phobos also possesses an intricate pattern of grooves, which may be cracks that formed after the impact created the moon's largest crater a hole about 6 miles (10 km) wide, or nearly half the width of Phobos. They always show the same face to Mars, just as our moon does to Earth.

It remains uncertain how Phobos andDeimoswere born. They may have been asteroids captured by Mars' gravitational pull, or they may have been formed in orbit around Mars the same time the planet came into existence.Ultraviolet lightreflected from Phobos provides strong evidence that the moon is a captured asteroid ,according to astronomers at the University of Padova in Italy.

Phobos is gradually spiraling toward Mars, drawing about 6 feet (1.8 meters) closer to the Red Planet each century. Within 50 million years, Phobos will either smash into Mars or break up and form a ring of debris around the planet.

The first person to watch Mars with a telescope wasGalileo Galilei. In the century following, astronomers discovered the planet's polar ice caps. In the 19th and 20th centuries, researchers believed they saw a network of long, straight canals on Mars, that hinted at possible civilization, although later these proved to be mistaken interpretations of dark regions they saw.

A number of martian rocks have fallen to the surface of Earth over the eons, providing scientists a rare opportunity to study Martian rocks without having to leave our planet. One of the most controversial finds was Allan Hills 84001 (ALH 84001) a Martian meteorite that in 1996, was said to contain shapes reminiscent of small fossils. The find garnered a lot of media attention at the time, but subsequent studies dismissed the idea. The debate was still ongoing in 2016, the 20th anniversary of the announcement. In 2018, a separate meteorite study found that organic molecules the building blocks of life, although not necessarily life itself could have formed on Mars through battery-like chemical reactions.

Robotic spacecraft began observing Mars in the 1960s, with the United States launchingMariner 4 in 1964 and Mariners 6 and 7 in 1969. The missions revealed Mars to be a barren world, without any signs of the life or civilizations people had imagined there. In 1971,Mariner 9orbited Mars, mapping about 80 percent of the planet and discovering its volcanoes and canyons.

The Soviet Union also launched numerous spacecraft in the 1960s and early 1970s, but most of those missions failed. Mars 2 (1971) and Mars 3 (1971) operated successfully, but were unable to map the surface due to dust storms. NASA'sViking 1lander touched down on the surface of Mars in 1976, the first successful landing on the Red Planet. The lander took the first close-up pictures of the Martian surface but found no strongevidence for life.

The next two craft to successfully reach Mars were the Mars Pathfinder, a lander, andMars Global Surveyor, an orbiter, both launched in 1996. A small robot onboard Pathfinder namedSojourner the first wheeled rover to explore the surface of another planet ventured over the planet's surface analyzing rocks.

In 2001, the NASA launched theMars Odysseyprobe, which discovered vast amounts of water ice beneath the Martian surface, mostly in the upper 3 feet (1 meter). It remains uncertain whether more water lies underneath, since the probe cannot see water any deeper.

In 2003, Mars passed closer to Earth than anytime in that past 60,000 years. That same year, NASA launched two rovers, nicknamedSpiritandOpportunity, which explored different regions of the Martian surface. Both rovers found signs that water once flowed on the planet's surface.

In 2008, NASA sent another mission, Phoenix, to land in the northern plains of Mars and search for water which it succeeded in doing.

In 2011, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission sent theMars Curiosity rover, to investigate Martian rocks and determine the geologic processes that created them. Among the mission's findings was thefirst meteoriteon the surface of the Red Planet. The rover has found complex organic molecules on the surface, as well as seasonal fluctuations in methane concentrations in the atmosphere.

NASA has two other orbiters working around the planet,Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterandMAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution). The European Space Agency (ESA) also has two spacecraft orbiting the planet:Mars Expressand the Trace Gas Orbiter.

In September 2014, India'sMars Orbiter Missionalso reached the Red Planet, making it the fourth nation to successfully enter orbit around Mars.

In November 2018, NASA sent a stationary lander called Mars InSight to the surface. InSight will examine the planet's geologic activity by burrowing a probe underground.

NASA plans to launch a successor rover mission to Curiosity, called Mars 2020. This mission will search for ancient signs of life and, depending on how promising its samples look, it may "cache" the results in safe spots on the Red Planet for a future rover to pick up.

ESA is working on its own ExoMars rover that should also launch in 2020, and will include a drill to go deep into the Red Planet, collecting soil samples from about 2 meters (6.5 feet) deep.

Mars is far from an easy planet to reach. NASA, Russia, the European Space Agency, China, Japan and the Soviet Union collectively lost many spacecraft in their quest to explore the Red Planet. Notable examples include:

1992 NASA's Mars Observer

1996 Russia's Mars 96

1998 NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter, Japan's Nozomi

1999 NASA's Mars Polar Lander

2003 ESA's Beagle 2 lander

2011 Russia's Fobus-Grunt mission to Phobos with the Chinese Yinghuo-1 orbiter

2016 ESA's Schiaparelli test lander

Robots aren't the only ones getting a ticket to Mars. A workshop group of scientists from government agencies, academia and industry have determined that aNASA-led manned mission to Marsshould be possible by the 2030s. However, in late 2017, the Trump administration directed NASA to send people back to the moon before going to Mars. NASA is now more focused on a concept called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway that would be a moon-based space station and headquarters for further space exploration.

Robotic missions to the Red Planet have seen much success in the past few decades, but it remains a considerable challenge to get people to Mars. With current rocket technology, it would take several months for people to travel to Mars, and that means they would live for several months in microgravity, which has devastating effects on the human body. Performing activities in the moderate gravity on Mars could prove extremely difficult after many months in microgravity. Research on the effects of microgravity continues on the International Space Station.

NASA isn't the only one with Martian astronaut hopefuls. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, has outlined multiple concepts to bring people to Mars. In November 2018, Musk rebranded SpaceX's future "Big Falcon Rocket" to "Starship". Other nations, including China and Russia, have also announced their goals for sending humans to Mars.

Additional resources:

This article was updated on Feb. 7, 2019, by contributor Elizabeth Howell.

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NASA’s Mars Rover Drivers Need Your Help NASAs Mars …

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Using an online tool to label Martian terrain types, you can train an artificial intelligence algorithm that could improve the way engineers guide the Curiosity rover.

You may be able to help NASA's Curiosity rover drivers better navigate Mars. Using the online tool AI4Mars to label terrain features in pictures downloaded from the Red Planet, you can train an artificial intelligence algorithm to automatically read the landscape.

Is that a big rock to the left? Could it be sand? Or maybe it's nice, flat bedrock. AI4Mars, which is hosted on the citizen science website Zooniverse, lets you draw boundaries around terrain and choose one of four labels. Those labels are key to sharpening the Martian terrain-classification algorithm called SPOC (Soil Property and Object Classification).

Developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has managed all of the agency's Mars rover missions, SPOC labels various terrain types, creating a visual map that helps mission team members determine which paths to take. SPOC is already in use, but the system could use further training.

"Typically, hundreds of thousands of examples are needed to train a deep learning algorithm," said Hiro Ono, an AI researcher at JPL. "Algorithms for self-driving cars, for example, are trained with numerous images of roads, signs, traffic lights, pedestrians and other vehicles. Other public datasets for deep learning contain people, animals and buildings but no Martian landscapes."

Once fully up to speed, SPOC will be able to automatically distinguish between cohesive soil, high rocks, flat bedrock and dangerous sand dunes, sending images to Earth that will make it easier to plan Curiosity's next moves.

"In the future, we hope this algorithm can become accurate enough to do other useful tasks, like predicting how likely a rover's wheels are to slip on different surfaces," Ono said.

The Job of Rover Planners

JPL engineers called rover planners may benefit the most from a better-trained SPOC. They are responsible for Curiosity's every move, whether it's taking a selfie, trickling pulverized samples into the rover's body to be analyzed or driving from one spot to the next.

It can take four to five hours to work out a drive (which is now done virtually), requiring multiple people to write and review hundreds of lines of code. The task involves extensive collaboration with scientists as well: Geologists assess the terrain to predict whether Curiosity's wheels could slip, be damaged by sharp rocks or get stuck in sand, which trapped both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.

Planners also consider which way the rover will be pointed at the end of a drive, since its high-gain antenna needs a clear line of sight to Earth to receive commands. And they try to anticipate shadows falling across the terrain during a drive, which can interfere with how Curiosity determines distance. (The rover uses a technique called visual odometry, comparing camera images to nearby landmarks.)

How AI Could Help

SPOC won't replace the complicated, time-intensive work of rover planners. But it can free them to focus on other aspects of their job, like discussing with scientists which rocks to study next.

"It's our job to figure out how to safely get the mission's science," said Stephanie Oij, one of the JPL rover planners involved in AI4Mars. "Automatically generating terrain labels would save us time and help us be more productive."

The benefits of a smarter algorithm would extend to planners on NASA's next Mars mission, the Perseverance rover, which launches this summer. But first, an archive of labeled images is needed. More than 8,000 Curiosity images have been uploaded to the AI4Mars site so far, providing plenty of fodder for the algorithm. Ono hopes to add images from Spirit and Opportunity in the future. In the meantime, JPL volunteers are translating the site so that participants who speak Spanish, Hindi, Japanese and several other languages can contribute as well.

For more, visit:

News Media ContactsAndrew GoodJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,

Grey Hautaluoma / Alana JohnsonNASA Headquarters, Washington202-358-0668 / /

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