Olympus Mons – the largest volcano in the solar system. (Photo: Provided)
The Mars rover named Curiosity has been rolling on the planet since 2012 and has traversed more than 14 miles. On its way to Mars right now is another rover named Perseverance that will explore the Martian terrain, take thousands of pictures and sample the soil.
Will humans ever follow in their tire tracks? The task is daunting and would be like no adventure before it.
Travel time from Earth to Mars is roughly six months. Once a crew reaches Mars, they must remain on the surface until the Earth orbits into closer alignment. That takes another 14 months. They would then make the six-month flight back to Earth. All in all, going to Mars and back would take more than two years and cover more than 100 million miles of space travel.
In comparison, the longest Apollo mission to the moon lasted 12 days and crossed only about 1 million miles of space.
Lots of land
Mars is a small planet – only about half the diameter of Earth, but it has a wealth of fascinating surface features. Polar ice caps grow and shrink with the seasons. Volcanoes and craters the size of Ohio pepper the landscape. One volcano, Olympus Mons, is three times taller than Mount Everest and would cover the entire state of Arizona.
No canyon in the solar system compares to Valles Marineris. It looks like a deep scar stretching 1/5 the way around Mars. At 2,500 miles in length and 5 miles deep, most of the United States could fit inside it.
The Mars Perseverance rover. (Photo: Provided)
Follow the water
Future visitors to Mars will try to unlock secrets hidden below the surface. Mars rovers and orbiters have found strong evidence that liquid water pooled in large seas and flowed in rivers during Mars’ ancient past. Is there still water on Mars today?
There are vast quantities of frozen water at the poles but do not present a good landing spot for humans. Choosing a site closer to the equator of Mars would provide a more stable temperature and an easier way off the planet. And there are plenty of deep craters that could have water just below the surface. Could an astronaut find life under the Martian soil or a fossil from eons ago? This is something much easier for a human to discover than a rover.
Viewing Mars from Earth
Although a mission to Mars may be 20 years in the future, this is the perfect time to view the Red Planet. Mars is at its closest point to Earth this month. Look for a bright red “star” in the east after dark. With a moderate-sized telescope, you can observe features on the surface of the planet and select a good landing spot.
Dean Regas is the Astronomer at the Cincinnati Observatory and author of 100 Things to See in the Night Sky. He can be reached at [email protected]
On to Mars – Online class with the Cincinnati Observatory
What: Rocket from Earth to Mars on a journey to see the Red Planet up close. Astronomer Dean Regas is your guide to past missions to Mars and looks ahead to the future.
When: Thursday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.
Where: Online class
Cost: $10 per household
More Info: www.cincinnatiobservatory.org
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