Humankind has been gazing along Mars for centuries, dreaming of what might be on its orange-dusting surface. As our telescopes have improved, our image of the Red Planet has been made, although the interpretation by scientists of rising details has not always been correct (see Mars channels). The first mission to successfully show Mars, Mariner 4, shone at home a handful of unclear crater visions, but the missions that followed – those that succeeded; the global failure rate is 50% for Mars spacecraft – has painted a clearer picture of the current bouldering of the planet.
More recently, scientists have found evidence of a warmer and wetter antique past for the planet that could have hosted Earth-like life, so the search for life continues, even though it is now in the past. And the planet has less movement of material than tectonic movement than the Earth, so its makeup can tell scientists about the formation of the solar system.
NASA's INSight Mars mission, scheduled to reach on Monday (November 26th), will sink deeper under the surface of the planet than any mission in front of it, learning about the interior of the planet. InSight is a lesser mission than many rovers and blinds that precede it, but it is the latest in a long line of robot emissaries to explore our planetary neighbor. [Missions to Mars: A Robot Red Planet Invasion History (Infographic)]
"Mars is an incredible natural lab near the earth," said Lori Glaze, interim director of the NASA Planetary Science Division, in an InSight news briefing on Nov. 21. "We really want to understand how we have come to this with the diversity of rocky planets in our solar system – they are all very different, each of them is unique in its own way and trying to understand how they have come so different is a really important issue ".
In addition – despite the failure rate – the planet is relatively easy to land and it is less likely to melt our equipment than Venus or Mercury.
Mars's geology presents a lot of evidence of the waters of the past, added Glaze, so "it could have been a place where life could have formed very early in Martian history and, of course, trying to understand how it is or was distributed life in the solar system is one of the major questions we have. "
Time capsule of early planets …
The Earth, Mars, and the other rocky planets in our solar system shone together from a dust disc that surrounds the young sun, becoming hotter and hotter as the material was added and melted into bodies with distinct cloaks and cores. However, we do not know much about that early in the history of the planets.
"On Mars, this structure has been preserved over the last 4.5 billion years, while on Earth, where we can actually study it fairly easily, the structure was mixed with both the tectonic plates and the convection of the mantle, very early processes were wiped out on Earth, "said Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator of the InSight mission and researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
So, just like studying the comets – the remnants of this training process – tells scientists about the early days of the solar system, exploring Mars's structure by measuring the planet's temperature and marsquakes can tell scientists about the next step in planetary evolution.
Knowing more about the current conditions of Mars can also help researchers understand what might have been in the past. [Why We’re Obsessed with Mars]
… and on the Early Earth
"Mars is a very unique place in our solar system, because it is one of the few other planets we think was really Earth-like," said Briony Horgan, a planetary scientist at Purdue University, which focuses on the geological history of the moon and Mars for Space.com. "Today, it is a cold, inhospitable place with a very thin atmosphere … low pressure, all the radiation that bathes the surface. But when we look at the geological record of Mars, we see huge amounts of things such as the channels of the dry river , deltas of dry lakes and sediment on the lake, we see minerals all over the planet, which can only form in the presence of water. " [Water on Mars: Curiosity Rover Uncovers a Flood of Evidence]
Mars, 3 or 4 billion years ago, may look very similar to the early Earth, Horgan said, and at the time of our planet's erosion, plaque tectonics and other processes have removed rocks that date back then, Mars offers another chance will give.
"Mars's geology has just been so little active in terms of the magnitude of the Earth that the rocks now 4 billion years have come to light," Horgan said. "They were not subjected, they were not buried, they were not eroded – we just sit there waiting for them to look at them and try to understand what these old, 4 billion could have been for a year to sustain life. "
Horgan is a scientist on the RASM mission of Mars 2020, whose landing site the agency announced on November 19th. The Mars 2020 Rover follows the footsteps of the 1976 Viking Strollers who landed on the Red Planet to seek a lifetime of scientists, "the best understanding of the planet's conditions and the Curiosity Rover, which reached in 2012 to investigate the habitats of its past Mars.
As our views on the planet are evolving, our search tools for life also have Horgan – after the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have shown the evidence of the past, Curiosity has brought a vast suite of scientific instruments to try to find organic or other evidence of habitats near those old water beds. Mars 2020 will be based on ongoing Curiosity work by bringing more fine-grained analysis tools, for example, into rock organs, looking for microfossils or textures that suggest ancient biology. Scientists still do not know if water flowing frequently on the surface or if it could have been more frozen with occasional melting because of volcanic activity.
"Some of the 2020 tools are really zero to the finer details of the rocks, just the things we can not see with the tools we currently have, and the cache that eventually, if it were returned Earth, could give us fundamental information in the long run, "said John Grant, a geologist at the Smithsonian Institution, who participated in the Spirit Sciences and Opportunity, Curiosity and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. He also led the process of choosing the landing site of Mars 2020.
"InSight is a very important part of this, because none [NASA’s previous missions] truly – with the intention of implementing – scratches under the surface in terms of planetary evolution and understanding of how the planet evolved over time, "Grant added.
"If we know anything about its internal structure and evolution, we can say something about how long it has been active, whether active or not, or how active it is today, and all of this has implications for changing conditions … related to things like habitats and whether there was a past life, "he said Space.com. Although, although InSight does not directly address Mars' life, "everything is intertwined," he added.
And, of course, with NASA's evolutionary plans to eventually send people to Mars, everything we learn will help us prepare for that moment.
"Yes, we return to the moon, but we are also on the road to Mars and science [helps] make sure we understand the resources and understand that we understand living conditions and that we understand what needs to be investigated there, "said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's managing director of the Mars 2020 landmark site.
"That is, I would say, an additional argument and above for why Mars is so exciting for us," he added. "We will not go to any other place as soon as possible on our terrestrial planets for all the obvious Mars is really the obvious place after the moon to go back and expand our presence in deeper and deeper space."
So why do we keep going on Mars? To learn more about our solar system, learn about the Early Earth, search for life and learn about our neighbor before visiting us.
"Science drives our understanding and allows us to get people to a place like Mars," Glaze said during the briefing. "The more exploration we have, the better we understand the environment, the better we will be ready to send people to Mars in the future."
Send Sarah Lewin to [email protected] or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and Facebook. Original article about Space.com.