What Is Mars?
Mars is one of the 9 planets in the solar system and is the fourth planet from the sun. To be more precise, it is about 230 kilometers from the sun. Mars orbital period is 687 earth days. A day on Mars is slightly longer than a day on earth i.e. 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds. A Martian year therefore is equal to 1 year, 320 days and 18 hours. It is said to be created as a result of stochastic process. It is nicknamed the “Red Planet” because of its reddish appearance caused by iron oxide found on its surface.
This makes it visible even from earth. Mars is almost half the diameter of planet earth and is less dense than earth. Mars has two small moons called Phobos and Deimos. Phobos rises in the west and sets in the east. It rises again after only 11 hours. Deimos on the other hand rises in the east but slowly.
Habitability of Mars
In recent times, there have been extensive studies to assess the possibility of human beings living in mars. This is because of all the other 8 planets in the solar system, mars is the only planet that is known to possess most earth-like seasons. This is brought about by the same tilts of both earth and Mars rotational axes. There is however a wide range of temperatures.
As mentioned earlier, mars has a thin atmosphere which inhibits liquid water from existing in large periods for longer periods of time. Planetary habitability can be termed as the capability of a world to possess favorable environmental conditions necessary to facilitate the emergence of life.
Due to Mars past flow of liquid water, it is dubbed as the planet with the most potential for human habitability. Recent studies carried out however show that the water found on the Martian Surface is too salty and acidic which hinders normal terrestrial life.
On a good note however, tests done by the Phoenix Mars lander have revealed that the soil contains alkaline pH with sodium, potassium, sodium and chloride. The nutrients therefore can support life but would require protection from ultra violet (UV) light.
Slight amounts of formaldehyde and methane noticed by mars orbiters are said to be likely evidence of life because the two would swiftly disintegrate in the Martian Atmosphere
Exploration of Mars
Many countries have in recent times been interested in exploring mars to study its climate, surface and geology. The countries include the United States, Soviet Union, India and Europe. They have used among others crewless spacecrafts like orbiters, rovers and landers.
There are currently 7 active probes in mars (7 orbiters and 2 rovers). Some of the important observations made include possible water flow in warm months and soil containing 1.5-3% water by mass. Elon Musk, a billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX founder came up with a plan to send passengers to mars in 2024. Most recently, US president Barack Obama improved the U.S policy to follow the mission of sending humans to mars by the next decade.
Challenges Facing Habitability of Mars
- Mars has less heat transfer across its surface.
- Inadequate atmospheric pressure required to keep water in liquid form.
- This is due to the fact that water sublimes in gaseous state.
- Reduced insulation against solar wind bombardment.