The Curiosity rover has spent four Earth years on the Red Planet and discovered that Mars has seasons just like our planet does. The only difference is that they are much longer due to the fact that the planet has a wider orbit around the Sun.
It may seem far away, but 2030 is actually just around the corner. NASA is rapidly running out of time to calculate all of the potential environmental threats that the manned mission will encounter on the Red Planet.
Temperature, more precisely the variation of temperature, is an essential element that must be further examined by the Agency in order to plan a safe trip for the crew that will set foot on our neighboring planet.
Mars has a different, wider orbit around the Sun giving the fact that is further away from the star than we are. It also has an inclined axis, meaning that the temperatures in some of the areas of the Red Planet are determined by its position on the orbit.
On Earth, a complete rotation around the sun marks the passing of one year. During this time, due to its inclined axis, the two hemispheres go through different seasons. The cycle repeats itself with every rotation.
In order to be able to determine if the Red Planet goes through the same seasonal changes, the researchers were forced to wait for Curiosity to gather information for at least two Martian years.
After carefully examining millions of hours of footage sent back by Curiosity, the scientists in charge of the project discovered that Mars has seasons just like Earth.
They noticed that the majority of seasonal changes were influenced by factors like temperature, water vapor, air pressure, and the levels of ultraviolet light that reach the surface of the planet.
Of course, there were a couple of strange occurrences that the researchers were unable to explain, but isolated phenomena are not uncommon on our planet, either. One example of the still unexplained incidents is a sudden release of methane gas that the spacecraft detected in the first year of exploration. The occurrence was unexpected, and it only happened on that one occasion.
According to Ashwin Vasavada, a scientist at the Laboratory of Jet Propulsion, “Curiosity’s weather station made measurements nearly every hour of the day, more than 34 million so far. The duration is important because it’s the second time through the seasons that lets us see repeated patterns.”
The Red Planet seems to be more and more Earth-like, and terraforming doesn’t sound so farfetched now that we know that Mars has seasons.
Image source: YouTube