Everything we've learned about Mars over the last century suggests that the planet was once able of hosting ecosystems.
But Mars is wrapped in a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere and cannot support earthly life forms.
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When scientists view the Martian surface, they see branching streams, river valleys, basins, and deltas, suggesting that the planet may have once had a vast ocean covering its northern hemisphere. It was likely wrapped in a thick atmosphere able to maintain liquid water.
But somehow, the planet went through a dramatic transformation. Exploring Mars can help scientists learn about climate change that can alter planets. Learning more about Mars may equip us to someday make a living there.
Once every 26 months, Earth and Mars are aligned to enable spacecraft to reach it in about half a year. Space agencies launch probes during these conjunctions.
The robotic activity is laying the groundwork for sending humans to Mars.
Since 1960, dozens of spacecraft have been sent to Mars. It is difficult to send a spacecraft to Mars and even harder to land on the planet because of the thin atmosphere.
Data revealed the largest volcanoes in the solar system and one of the largest canyons yet discovered. Dust storms regularly sweep over the plains. Several spacecraft orbiting Mars shows an active planet rich in ingredients needed for life - water, organic carbon, and an energy source.
Mars was named by the ancient Romans for their god of war because its reddish color was reminiscent of blood.
Other civilizations also named the planet for this attribute; for example, the Egyptians called it "Her Desher," meaning "the red one." Even today, it is frequently called the "Red Planet" because iron minerals in the Martian dirt oxidize, or rust, causing the surface to look red.
At the beginning of this year, NASA scientists had to decide which missions should explore our Solar System. They chose four missions for further study from the 20 intriguing ideas submitted. From these, they will pick two to fund fully.
This is how NASA has done planetary science for decades, and the process has succeeded phenomenally. Yet, there is so much more we can learn about the Solar System.
Jupiter is our fith planet from our Sun and is by far, the largest planet in the solar system - more than twice as massive as all the other planets combined. Jupiter's stripes and swirls are actually cold, windy clouds of ammonia and water, floating in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot is a giant storm bigger than Earth that has raged for hundreds of years.
Jupiter is surrounded by dozens of moons. Jupiter also has several rings, but unlike the famous rings of Saturn, Jupiter’s rings are very faint and made of dust, not ice.