Last December, NASA stated that they needed to delay their investigation of what lies beneath the surface of Mars. However, the organization was clearly not backed up too much by this delay because they recently announced the completion of a 16 year project that has shed more light on the Red Planet than ever before. This is significant for many reasons, including the fact that many scientific guesses regarding the atmosphere of Mars have now been confirmed.
NASA began launching satellites to monitor MARS during the 1970s. At the current time, there are 13 satellites orbiting the planet, and five of them are operational. The Mars Odyssey satellite was launched in 2001, and it is not only the oldest active satellite but it has also played an integral role in helping NASA map the planet’s surface and interior. In fact, all of the details that NASA is currently celebrating were compiled by only three of their 13 Mars satellites, and the Mars Odyssey provided much of the data.
To determine factors such as the planet’s atmospheric conditions and the makeup of its interior, NASA’s satellites recorded and transmitted information about gravity. As a result, every minor gravitational fluctuation was captured, which led to the creation of a viable Mars gravity map. Gravity is a vital piece in putting together a topographical map of any surface because canyons exert a weaker pull, but mountains increase the pull of gravity on each satellite. In other words, studying each variation makes it possible to develop a reasonably accurate map of the surface of any applicable planet.
From there, NASA’s team removed all of the fluctuations and analyzed the remaining orbital movements to gain insight into the planet’s interior. One of the most notable highlights of this research is the confirmation that the planet has a liquid outer core that is made from molten rock. Additionally, the crustal thickness of Mars is now estimated at being approximately 75 miles. This is helpful information when combined with all of the other collected data because it presents NASA with a good look at how the planet’s crustal thickness has changed throughout history.
Theories about the seasons on Mars have also been confirmed. The gravity map showcases that the atmosphere loses as much as 16 percent of its mass during wintertime. This happens due to an astounding 3 to 4 trillion tons of carbon dioxide essentially freezing away from the southern and northern polar caps. Because the planet alternates winter and summer between its two hemispheres in the same manner as Earth, this means that there is always a notable loss of atmospheric mass on half of Mars.
Even more exciting is the revelation that the two years that have been spent analyzing the 16 years’ worth of data will make it much more possible for a spacecraft to actually land on the Red Planet’s surface. NASA can now more accurately predict the best places and timeframes for inserting ships and satellites into the orbit of Mars. After this happens, it is only a matter of time before the space exploration organization can safely send humans to our closet celestial neighbor.
It remains to be seen if NASA or any other publicly funded organization will achieve this feat before private companies such as SpaceX and Mars One attempt to colonize the planet. NASA is currently eying the 2030s as a potential time table for their own colonization project, but this is not likely to be permanent outpost. In the meantime, the newly released gravity map is the closet humans can get to experiencing life on Mars.