This first water map of Mars could help NASA choose where to land

European Space Agency (ESA) scientists have created the first water map of Mars, based on data from its Mars Express Observatory and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

While the idea of ​​sending humans to Mars was once confined to science fiction, NASA hopes it could become a reality by the late 2030s.

But one of the key questions we need to solve before we leave for the Red Planet is where to land.

Now, scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) have created the first water map of Mars, using data from its Mars Express Observatory and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The team hopes the map will change the way we think about Mars’ watery past and help decide where to land on the red planet in the future.

European Space Agency (ESA) scientists have created the first water map of Mars, based on data from its Mars Express Observatory and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

MARS: THE BASICS

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, with a dusty, cold, ‘almost dead’ desert world with a very thin atmosphere.

Mars is also a dynamic planet with seasons, ice caps, canyons, extinct volcanoes and evidence that it was even more active in the past.

It is one of the most explored planets in the solar system and the only planet that humans have sent rovers to explore.

A day on Mars takes just over 24 hours and a year has 687 Earth days.

Facts and figures

orbital period: 687 days

Surface area: 144.8 million km²

Distance from the Sun: 227.9 million km

gravity: 3,721 m/s²

radio: 3,389.5 km

moons: Phobos, Deimos

The map shows the locations and abundance of aqueous minerals on Mars.

These minerals come from rocks that have been chemically altered by water in the past and are usually transformed into clays and salts.

While you might think these watery minerals would be few and far between, the big surprise is their prevalence on Mars, with the map revealing hundreds of thousands of such areas.

“This work has now established that when you study ancient terrains in detail, not seeing these minerals is really a curiosity,” said Dr John Carter of the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale.

The big question now is whether this water was persistent or limited to shorter, more intense episodes.

ESA hopes that the map will serve as a better tool to answer this question.

“I think we’ve collectively oversimplified Mars,” Dr Carter said.

Scientists have previously tended to think that only certain types of clay minerals were created on Mars during its wet period.

Then, as the water gradually dried up, salts were produced all over the planet.

However, the new map shows that the process was probably much more complicated than that.

Although many of the salts probably formed later than the clays, the map shows that there are exceptions.

Data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer (CRISM) instrument showed that Jezero Crater displays a wide variety of hydrous minerals.

Data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer (CRISM) instrument showed that Jezero Crater displays a wide variety of hydrous minerals.

ESA's Mars Express Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, l'Eau, les Glaces et l'Activité (OMEGA) instrument is better suited for higher spectral resolution maps and provides global coverage of Mars

ESA’s Mars Express Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité (OMEGA) instrument is better suited for higher spectral resolution maps and provides global coverage of Mars

Lunar soil could be used to convert CO2 into ROCKET FUEL to power missions to Mars

A new study has found that lunar soil could be turned into rocket fuel to power future missions to Mars.

Analysis of dirt pellets carried by China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft found that regolith on the Moon contains compounds that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.

The soil is rich in iron and titanium, which work as catalysts under sunlight and could convert carbon dioxide and water released by astronauts’ bodies into oxygen, hydrogen and other useful byproducts like methane to power a lunar base .

Because liquid oxygen and hydrogen make rocket fuel, it also opens the door to an interplanetary refueling station on the Moon that lowers costs for trips to the Red Planet and beyond.

“The evolution from a lot of water to no water is not as clear as we thought, the water didn’t stop overnight,” Dr Carter explained.

“We see a great diversity of geological contexts, so no one process, no single timeline can explain the evolution of the mineralogy of Mars.

“This is the first result of our study. The second is that if you exclude life processes on Earth, Mars shows a diversity of mineralogy in geological settings just like Earth.’

To create the map, ESA used data from several instruments.

For example, data from NASA’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument showed that Jezero Crater displays a wide variety of hydrous minerals.

Meanwhile, ESA’s Mars Express Observatoire pour la Mineralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité (OMEGA) instrument is better suited for higher spectral resolution mapping and provides global coverage of Mars.

The researchers hope the map will be useful to NASA as it chooses where to land on Mars in the future.

The news comes ahead of NASA’s Artemis I mission, which will launch on August 29, and paves the way for future missions to the Moon and Mars.

“Artemis I will be an unmanned flight test that will provide a foundation for human exploration of deep space and demonstrate our commitment and ability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond,” NASA explained .

If the Artemis missions are successful, NASA aims to launch astronauts to Mars in the late 2030s or early 2040s.

NASA plans to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s after the first landing on the moon

Mars has become the next giant leap for mankind’s space exploration.

But before humans reach the Red Planet, astronauts will take a series of small steps back to the Moon for a year-long mission.

Details of a lunar orbit mission have been released as part of a timeline of events leading to missions to Mars in the 2030s.

NASA outlined its four-stage plan (pictured) that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at the Humans to Mars Summit held in Washington DC yesterday.  This will involve multiple missions to the Moon over the coming decades

NASA outlined its four-stage plan (pictured) that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at the Humans to Mars Summit held in Washington DC yesterday. This will involve multiple missions to the Moon over the coming decades

In May 2017, Greg Williams, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for policy and plans, outlined the space agency’s four-stage plan that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars, as well as its expected timeframe .

Phase one and two it will involve multiple trips into lunar space, to allow for the construction of a habitat that will provide a rest area for the trip.

The last piece of hardware delivered would be the Deep Space Transport Vehicle that would later be used to carry a crew to Mars.

And in 2027 there will be a simulation of life on Mars for a year.

Phases three and four will begin after 2030 and will involve sustained crewed expeditions into the Martian system and the surface of Mars.

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