Mars aka the Red Planet is the next door neighbour within the solar system that the residences of Earth are pretty excited about. Many are fascinated by the idea that this might be the next planet that we live on and, odds are, that it will be and potentially soon. The relationship with our planet isn’t great at the moment but when we decide to break-up, what’s the difference between the old relationship and the new one that we will hopefully have with Mars? Let’s have a look.
Mars is approximately 225 million kms from Earth and up to 400 million km when on the opposite side of the sun to Earth. This is but a standard, with the closest we’ve ever been being only 35 million km away in 2003. This was during the period when Mars was at it’s closest to the sun and Earth was the furthest from the sun. If we wanted to visit our neighbour for an unspecified duration of time, it could take anywhere from 130 days to 340 days (using previous craft flyby times) with there being a couple of variables that alter these.
When the craft is launched is important because the planets are constantly orbiting around the sun a different rates; resulting in the distances between us constantly changing. These times can also be altered by the propulsion technology that is available at the time of launch as well as the fact that there will be people on board; it’s not just a probe. Due to the additional mass on the craft, acceleration when we head towards and deceleration when we get there is slower thanks to inertia (the resistance to changing your state of motion). What about when we get there?
The planet orbits the sun every 687 Earth days with a day cycle on the planet being just over 24 hours and 39 minutes (slightly longer than Mars; imagine what you could get done with that extra time?!). Mars has a surface area of approximately 145 million km² (28.4% the surface area of Earth) which makes it smaller. It’s reddish appearance comes from the abundance of iron oxide sands, it has a very thin atmosphere, it has two moons (Phobos & Deimos) and has a surface temperature that fluctuates between -140°C and 35°C. Due to the low atmospheric pressure and freezing temperatures, liquid water does exist on the planet but as ice situated around the north and south poles.
Investigation into the ice and soil on Mars found that the water had existed as a liquid on the planet at some stage. Discovery of these facts was the drive for the radical idea proposed by Elon Musk a couple of years ago to occasionally set of nukes in the atmosphere above the poles. This would provide heat allowing for frozen carbon dioxide to enter the atmosphere (increasing preexisting levels) with hopes of generating a greenhouse effect warming the planet further. Ice would also melt with the potential of evaporating to form clouds and potentially create a water cycle on Mars; distributing water around the planet. Though radical, there doesn’t appear to be much more of a push towards the completion of the idea by Musk since then; at least for now.
Unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have a magnetosphere (read more here) so it is directly bombarded by solar rays which slowly peels away the thin atmosphere. The atmosphere contains mainly carbon dioxide with small amounts of argon and nitrogen, and traces of water and oxygen. Due to these amounts, the planet isn’t very habitable which has very strict guidelines; one of them being where it sits around a sun. Around stars (like the Sun) there is an halo which has been identified as the habitable zone and it is the area around the sun in which water can exist as a liquid; crucial for the life. Mars only dips into this region occasionally but the pressure of the atmosphere is insufficient so the water turns from a solid to a gas through a process called sublimation.
The planet is pretty much a dead rock in space though it is thought that it might have been more habitable a couple of million years ago with hopes of the evidence of life being uncovered during future exploration. In the meantime, there is still the push to get human feet onto the surface of the planet, we just have to work out a way of making it a more plausible endeavour in the future. God, I hope it is in my life time; don’t you?