With the recent landing of the Mars rover, Curiosity, the question in our house what “Why study Mars? Why not another planet?” Good question.
Because of its relative close proximity to earth, scientist have been studying Mars, even from a far, for centuries. NASA has been especially curious (couldn’t resist) about Mars for decades. NASA has actually landed 6 other craft on Mars before Curiosity and launched a total of 19 missions of space craft and orbitals to study the red planet. Curiosity is just the latest, and possibly, the most successful.
Mars has fascinated scientists in recent decades because of the possibility of life existing there. This life might only be in a tiny microbe form and may have occured in the past, but finding evidence of some sort of life on another planet would still be amazing!
What Kind Of Evidence Are Scientist Looking For?
The rovers and crafts that have been sent to Mars have not always looked for life directly. That might be an illusive task. Instead, they have concentrated on trying to find the building blocks of life – liquid water and organic compounds.
We already know from past voyages to Mars that the poles are covered in ice caps and there is thought to be ice in permafrost under the surface of the planet. Mars is very cold, so it is doubtful this ice can melt into liquid. However, images taken from past explorations show land formations that seem to looks like flash flooding patterns here on earth. The Curiosity rover is equipped with a water sensor that may be able to shed some light on this issue.
Other studies of Martian soil and possible Martian asteroids have given scientists reason to think that life could have existed at one point on Mars. Tiny formations found in Martain rocks and asteroids were detected by electron microscopes. These were similar to bacteria fossils found on earth. Compounds were, also, found that suggest the presence of water and organic compounds at one time. Curiosity carries instruments able to test rocks and dust for these organic compounds.
Want To Learn More?
The successful landing of Curiosity has captured the world’s attention. Capitalize on the media frenzy and get your kids excited about studying space. Here are some Mars and Curiosity links that might help you out:
For all you ever wanted to know about Curiosity and Mars, including images sent back from Curiosity of Mars – NASA’s Mars Science Lab
How Curiosity will study the building blocks of life – Space.com
Mars funzone for kids - NASA
Mars facts – National Geographic
Mars Rover Activity Pack – NASA
Follow Curiosity on twitter @MarsCuriosity