Planet of possibilities-MARS

New Delhi: Mars is the fourth planet of the solar system from the Sun outwards. Popularly known as the ‘Red Planet’, Mars is half the size of the Earth, and with the temperature dropping down to minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit it is considered to be one of the coldest planets. It has one-third of the gravity of Earth and is full of canyons, volcanoes, and craters. Yet, studies conducted through satellites and robots have indicated that Mars is a planet of many possibilities.

Earth keeps getting rocks of different shapes and sizes from Mars. One of the most controversial was ‘Allen Hills 84001’, a Martian meteorite that struck the Earth in 1996. It was found to contain shapes resembling small fossils. The study attracted a lot of media attention but nothing came out of it. In 2018, again there was a flurry of activities when another study found another meteorite rock to be carrying signs of organic molecules. It was speculated that the molecules may have formed on Mars through chemical reactions.

After a lot of unsuccessful attempts, in 1996, two crafts launched by the United States of America’s NASA – Mars Global Surveyor,and Mars Pathfinder successfully reached the planet. Mars Pathfinder carried a small robot onboard named Sojourner. It was the first wheeled rover to explore a planet’s surface. NASA then launched Mars Odyssey in 2001 which discovered a vast amount of ice beneath the surface of the Red Planet, indicating the possibility for life on the planet. This accelerated the study on Mars and one after the other NASA kept sending crafts to it.

In 2003, Mars passed closest to Earth in 60,000 years. NASA took the opportunity to launch two rovers, nicknamed Spirit and Opportunity, which studied different regions of the Martian surface. Both rovers discovered signs that water once flowed on the planet’s surface. In 2008, NASA launched the mission ‘Phoenix’ in search of water and succeeded.  Several space research organizations in other parts of the world have also sent their spacecraft and have gathered a pile of evidence that indicates the possibility for life on Mars.

India launched its first mission to Mars in November 2013 and it entered Mars’ orbit in September 2014. It was India’s first attempt to reach another planet and it was highly successful. The mission cost Rs 450 crore, making it one of the least expensive missions to Mars to date. The cost was lower than the money put into making the science fiction film, ‘Gravity’.

While the mission was designed to work for a period of six months, it is now in its seventh year running. It has returned thousands of pictures of the Red Planet adding up to over two terabytes. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is now working on a second Mars mission. It has asked the scientific community for suggestions for experiments that may be carried out and is in the process of receiving these inputs. “Once we get these suggestions, we will prepare a project report. Then we will go to Space Commission,” ISRO Chairman, Dr. K.Sivan said.

All these research activities over the past several years have captivated the imagination of the world and have led to the generation of a dream of human colonization of planet Red in the future. However, it is currently just an idea. Evidence found till now suggests that there was a time when Mars had a livable habitat. Scientists and researchers are looking for the future possibilities of sustainable life on Mars.

The idea to colonize Mars is directly connected to the benefits for humankind. It may enable the growth of humans as a species as it could enable economic benefits. A colonised Mars may also help if anything apocalyptic were to happen in the future that would demand the immediate evacuation of human species from earth. However, there are some risks involved with it. (India Science Wire)

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