Taking a drive on Mars is no easy task. Two robot geologists have landed on our neighboring planet to look for signs of water and other geological clues in the search for life on Mars.
Click on a rover to find out more.
In June and July, 2003, NASA/JPL sent the Mars Exploration Rovers, twin geology-laboratory robots to Mars. Each is the size of a desk and capable of traveling up to 110 yards a day from their respective landing sites. The landing area for the Spirit rover is Gusev Crater. This 150 km (95 miles) wide crater has a valley leading into it that is 900 km (550 miles) long and may have been carved by water action. If the crater was filled with water in the past there might be evidence of sediment layers. The other rover, Opportunity, landed on the flat plains of Meridiani. Halfway around the planet from Gusev Crater it is an area that has minerals that seem to form in the presence of water like gray hematite. Close the tab to return to Kid's Cosmos.
Why Look for Water?
Think about all the life here on Earth and you will see that all forms of life need water. Even one-celled animals and plants like bacteria (germs) and algea need it to function. Scientists and engineers have developed instruments for finding water that a robot geologist can use to see if any water is on Mars. It could be in rocks, frozen in the soil, or in the air.
Another way to find evidence of water is to look for layers of sediment. Layers at the bottom of lakes can be counted like tree rings as seasons bring different amounts of material into the lake. Layers can also be deposited by winds and volcanic action so geologists have to be careful when studying these layers.
Where Would You Look for Life?
If you were looking for ice cream in your friend's house where would you look? If you thought, the freezer, you would most likely be right. Which room or rooms would a freezer be in? How would you know that you were in a room that would have a freezer in it? What size, color, and shape would the freezer be? What would contain the ice cream? What kind of ice cream would it be? How do you know it would be ice cream rather than last night's mashed potatoes?
Biologists must ask the same kind of questions and then help design instruments to detect life on other planets. Spirit and Opportunity were sent to places that scientists think may have had water. It seems that Mars formed about the same time as Earth and went through similar stages. Did Mars have a time when it was wet and warm so that life could start like it did here? Is there any evidence that life existed then or even now? That is a big question!
Could People Explore Mars??
Mars is a very hostile planet for humans. The atmosphere is mostly poisonous carbon dioxide, its very cold and has huge dust storms that can cover the whole planet at once. Robot geologists can lead the way by finding out about the planet so that ways can be found to allow people to explore Mars.
It would take about 6 months for a spacecraft to get to Mars but the crew would have to wait a year and a half before returning. While there are no current plans for a piloted mission to Mars you can see some designs at this NASA website, Mars Mission. Close the tab to return to Kid's Cosmos.
Other Missions to Mars
There are two current missions to Mars that you might want to learn more about, the Mars Global Surveyor and the Mars Odyssey programs.
Mars Global Surveyor
In November 1996, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory began America's return to Mars after a 20-year absence by launching the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft. Since then Surveyor has returned an unprecedented amount of data regarding Mars' surface features, atmosphere, and magnetic properties. The mapping phase of the mission began in mid-March 1999.
Mars Odyssey is an orbiter carrying science experiments designed to make global observations of Mars to improve our understanding of the planet's climate and geologic history, including the search for water and evidence of life-sustaining environments. Mars Odyssey arrived in orbit in October, 2001, and began its science mapping orbit (for 917 Earth days) and serves as a communications relay for U.S. and international missions studying Mars.
Field Trip to Mars, Mars Features on Earth
is a self-guided excursion to view various sites located on or near the central plateau of Washington that correlate to features found on Mars.
Included is a section on volcanoes with a page about Mount St Helens, an active volcano that "blew its top" in 1980. Also included is information on Mars Pathfinder, earthquakes, giant floods, sand dunes, lava flows, dust devils, and geological background material. Click image or here to go to Field Trip to Mars
All external links open in a new tab.
Close the tab to return to Kid's Cosmos.
Kids' Cosmos… Expanding Minds Beyond the Limits of the Universe
P.O. Box 14077, Spokane, WA 99206-4077
© 2011 Kid's Cosmos