Space Coffee #4: Max Mars madness
Curated Mars stories from the Internet for your weekend digging pleasure.
Here’s another Mars special edition of Space Coffee, celebrating the successful landing of the most ambitious robotic geologist ever sent to the red planet. Let’s fuel your curiosity.
I write about NASA’s 40-year drive to perfect Mars landings that led them to land the Perseverance rover near the ancient river delta of Jezero to get our best shot yet at finding past martian life.
This was my first piece for Scientific American! I grew up reading a lot of their magazines purchased second-hand from stores that collected discarded reading material so it felt pretty great to be an author there.
Curated martian space from the Internet
Before Curiosity, before Opportunity, before Spirit, and before Sojourner, the very first robot to land on Mars was this little guy, way back in December of 1971. Called PrOP-M, the rover was part of the Soviet Union's Mars-3 mission, which had the potential to deploy the first ever mobile scientific instruments onto the Martian surface.
Volcanism is the outward expression of a planet’s internal fire, a major way for it to lose heat while giving the surface a new coat of paint. If we understand how volcanic Mars is, we can understand its internal evolution and compare it to Earth’s. So if InSight is truly hearing magma, then we come closer to understanding not only Mars but our own planet as well. [...] On Mars, there’s only one seismometer. But what a seismometer it is. “They didn’t just send any seismometer. They sent one of the most sensitive seismometers that’s ever been built,” says Christine Houser, a global seismologist at the Earth-Life Science Institute at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.
Large numbers can feel abstract, so here are some more intuitive ways to characterize the total cost of Perseverance.
33 hours of running the US Department of Defense
The amount of money Google makes in 6 days
The amount of money Americans spend on their pets every 10 days
Disney’s global box office revenue for Avengers: Endgame
“Early Mars was a watery world, but as the planet’s climate changed this water retreated below the surface to form pools and ‘groundwater’,” says lead author Francesco Salese of Utrecht University, the Netherlands. “We traced this water in our study […] and we found the first geological evidence of a planet-wide groundwater system on Mars.”
Gullies on Mars look like gullies carved by water on Earth. But Martian gullies are geologically young (tens to hundreds of thousands of years)—much younger than when liquid water was stable on Mars' surface. So, this became quite the conundrum: How did these form on Mars so recently?
If you’re too hyped about Mars and your brain needs more to keep the juices flowing, I highly recommend reading the latest Mars-themed issue of The Orbital Index with links to papers, in-depth stories and crisp overviews.