Every single morning, when my alarm drops a hydrogen bomb into the middle of my sexy dreams, I lie in bed entertaining fantasies of further sleep. What would I do to be able to sink back into the cotton wool comfiness of my sub-consciousness for another half hour? In my irrational sleep-addled state, a lot! So, sign me up for the first commercial flight to Mars because with days that are not 30 minutes, but 40 minutes longer than on Earth, my desperate desire for extra sleep would be granted!
Curiosity Weighs 899 kg
Luckily There Aren’t Any Cats on Mars
On the 5th August of 2012, the Mars rover ‘Curiosity’ made a successful landing on the powdery, rock-strewn surface of the Red Planet. A part of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, Curiosity’s primary objective is to explore the real estate on Mars and the possibility of humans inhabiting it at some time in the not-so-distant future.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems. Derivative work including grading, distortion correction, minor local adjustments and rendering from tiff-file: Julian Herzog – http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16239
This sophisticated piece of machinery (see above image) cost NASA $2.5 billion to build and is designed to investigate features of Mars’ geology and climate during the course of its two-year long investigation. More specifically, the aptly-named ‘Curiosity’ will be looking for “ancient organic compounds,” according to NASA Ames Research Centre’s planetary scientist, Carol Stoker. This would help us understand the history of Mars, Earth’s sister planet,’ as a previous or even current supporter of life
All of the high tech gadgetry aboard the ‘Curiosity’ is essentially geared to measure the presence, nature and concentration of organic compounds that are possibly locked within the planet’s dry soils. After two years of exploration, ‘Curiosity’ will hopefully have answered our many pressing questions about the habitability of Mars. This could bring us closer, much closer, to planning an alternate future on the Red Planet… just in case we gas ourselves out of our own home in the solar system.
Or, you know, Bruce Willis chickens out of his mission to blow up an Earth-bound asteroid.
Meet The Red Planet!
Hey, hi, how are ya?
Astute academics such as Dr. Richard Zurek, Chief Scientist in the Mars Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), have strong reason to suspect that Mars was once home to living organisms and that the Curiosity mission will indeed yield fruit. The presence of frozen water at the poles, an atmosphere that consists almost entirely of carbon dioxide, geological features that appear to have been carved and shaped by running water and a climate that is not wholly intolerable, indicate that out of all other known planets and moons in our solar system, Mars is or at least was the most accommodating of life.
What we want to know is whether we too could one day inhabit this arid red landscape… and if so, what would life on Mars be like?
Planet Profile: Mars
Etymology: Thanks to its blood-red colour, Mars was named by ancient civilizations after the Roman God of War.
Diameter: 6,787 kilometres
Average distance from Sun: 227,936,640 kilometres.
Rotation period (length of day): 1.026 Earth days
Orbital period (length of year): 686.98 Earth days
Menstrual period: huh?
Tilt of axis: 25° (Earth’s is approximately 23.4°)
Maximum surface temperature (tanning weather): 37°C
Minimum surface temperature (cuddle weather): -123°C
Best view from Mars: Olympus Mons, which is 27 kilometres higher than surrounding lava plains.
Atmospheric constituents: (1) 95% carbon dioxide, (2) 3% nitrogen, (3) 1.6% argon and (4) other trace gases. Methane was recently discovered there, too.
Your Martian Calendar and Climate
Because of Mars’ distance from the sun, 227,936,640 km on average, it takes quite a bit longer for it to bumble its way around the fiery focal point of our solar system. This means that a Martian year is much longer than an Earth year; approximately twice as long, in fact. There are 687 days in a year on Mars. Thanks to the planet’s tilted axis, however, there are still two primary seasons: summer and winter. This doesn’t really matter though. With average year-round temperatures of -60°C (-80°F) you’re still going to need to take a very warm jacket and maybe a pair of mittens, too. There are a few balmy days to look forward to… in summer, the mercury in Mars’ equatorial regions can actually hit 20°C (70°F), punctuated by days of a roasty toasty 37°C (98°F).
In spite of the cold, Mars is a desert planet, much like Tatooine, the one Star Wars’ Anakin Skywalker comes from… wait, hold on… did I just say that out loud? It never rains on Mars’ rust-red landscape and the only break you get in the distant and diluted sunshine is high level, coruscating congregations of ice-crystals; similar in fact to the cirrus clouds we get here on Earth. Bitterly cold winters aside, Mars would seem to be a rather affable place to settle.
Not always! When the horizon darkens and the wind picks up, it’s time to hit to road, Jack. Mars’ raging dust storms are the most tempestuous in the entire solar system.
In 2001, the Hubble Space Telescope captured the complete transformation of Mars as an enormous dust storm swept over the entire globe’s surface. These storms are driven by winds of up to 160 km/hr and can last weeks or even months. On the up-side, with nothing else to do other than stay inside, this would hurry along the population of Mars…
Martian Tourist Attractions
Once you get bored of admiring endless vistas of red nothingness and of tripping over the legions of sharp rocks that are ubiquitous to Mar’s dusty, empty landscape, you will need to take in a few of the planet’s more redeeming features. Thankfully, there are plenty of those. Mars offers some spectacular natural attractions that make the Grand Canyon look like a butt crack and Earth’s biggest volcano, Mauna Loa, look like a bug bite. Albeit a bad one.
Olympus Mons is Mars’ largest mountain/volcano/OMG-look-at-THAT!! At a lofty 27 kilometres (17 miles) high and an expansive 600 kilometres (372 miles) across, this megalith is three times as tall as Mount Everest, Earth’s largest mountain. It’s also the largest known volcano in the solar system.
What was once a suppurating abscess of death is now a brooding blackhead on the face of Mars’ blood-red landscape. Olympus Mons sits conspicuously in the top-right hand quadrant of this colorised topographical map of The Red Planet, from the MOLA instrument of Mars Global Surveyor.