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Part VIII : Introduction to the Earth

The Earth

Part IX : Climates and Biomes Index

Weather and Climate
Biomes
The Environment : The Atmosphere
The Greenhouse Effect
Hydrosphere, Lithosphere and Biosphere

Topic Chapters Index

 

Mission to Mars: The Curiosity Rover

 

Curiosity Rover 

The Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars © NASA

 

Launched by NASA in November 2011, the Curiosity rover reached the surface of Mars on 6th August 2012. It landed in the Gale Crater near a mountain named Aeolis Mons.

Around the size of a small car, Curiosity is roaming the Martian landscape and taking readings that will help NASA scientists learn more about the climate and rocks on Mars.

 

Martian landscape

The Martian landscape as seen by Curiosity © NASA

 

Scientists selected the Gale Crater as the landing site because it has layers of different types of rock that are exposed and able to be sampled.

Each sample can be tested to find out if any of them show signs that microbes could have been present in the past.

Curiosity is also sending back data that will show if water exists or ever existed on Mars.

After analysing data sent from Curiosity for one year, scientists have discovered that Mars could have supported simple life forms, or microbes, in the ancient past.

 

MISSIONS TO MARS

Information taken from NASA website

SOVIET FLAG 1960 MARSNIK 1 Attempted Mars Flyby (launch failure)
1960 MARSNIK 2 Attempted Mars Flyby (launch failure)
SOVIET FLAG 1962 SPUTNIK 22 Attempted Mars Flyby
1962 MARS 1 Mars Flyby (contact lost)
1962 SPUTNIK 24 Attempted Mars Lander
USA FLAG 1964 MARINER 3 Attempted Mars Flyby
1964 MARINER 4 Mars Flyby
SOVIET FLAG 1964 ZOND 2 Mars Flyby (contact lost)
USA FLAG 1969 MARINER 6 Mars Flyby
1969 MARINER 7 Mars Flyby
SOVIET FLAG 1969 MARS 1969A Attempted Mars Orbiter (launch failure)
1969 MARS 1969B Attempted Mars Orbiter (launch failure)
USA FLAG 1971 MARINER 8 Attempted Mars Flyby (launch failure)
1971 MARINER 9 Mars Orbiter
SOVIET FLAG 1971 COSMOS 419 Attempted Mars Orbiter/Lander
1971 MARS 2 Mars Orbiter/ Attempted Lander
1971 MARS 3 Mars Orbiter/ Lander
SOVIET FLAG 1973 MARS 4 Mars Flyby/ Attempted Mars Orbiter
1973 MARS 5 Mars Orbiter
1973 MARS 6 Mars Lander (contact lost)
1973 MARS 7 Mars Flyby/ Attempted Mars Lander
USA FLAG 1975 VIKING 1 Mars Orbiter and Lander
1975 VIKING 2 Mars Orbiter and Lander
SOVIET FLAG 1988 PHOBOS 1 Attempted Mars Orbiter/Phobos Landers
1988 PHOBOS 2 Mars Orbiter/Attempted Phobos Landers
USA FLAG 1992 MARS OBSERVER Attempted Mars Orbiter (Contact lost)
USA FLAG 1996 MARS GLOBAL SURVEYOR Mars Orbiter
1996 MARS PATHFINDER Mars Lander and Rover
RUSSIAN FLAG  1996 MARS 96 Attempted Mars Orbiter/Lander
JAPANESE FLAG  1998 NOZOMI (PLANET-B) Mars Orbiter
USA FLAG 1998 MARS CLIMATE ORBITER Attempted Mars Orbiter
USA FLAG 1999 MARS POLAR LANDER Attempted Mars Lander
1999 DEEP SPACE 2(DS2) Attempted Mars Penetrators
USA FLAG 2001 2001 MARS ODYSSEY Mars Orbiter
ESA logo 2003 MARS EXPRESS Mars Orbiter and Lander
USA FLAG 2003 SPIRIT (MER-A) Mars Rover
2003 OPPORTUNITY (MER-B) Mars Rover
USA FLAG 2005 MARS RECONNAISANCE ORBITER Mars Orbiter
USA FLAG 2007 PHOENIX Mars Scout Lander
RUSSIAN FLAG 2011 PHOBOS-GRUNT Attempted Martian Moon Phobos Lander
CHINESE FLAG 2011 YINGHUO-1 Attempted Mars Orbiter
USA FLAG 2011 MARS SCIENCE LABORATORY Mars Rover (Curiosity)
INDIAN FLAG 2013 MANGALYAAN Mars Orbiter
USA FLAG 2013 MAVEN Mars Scout Mission Orbiter
ESA logo SOVIET FLAG 2016 EXOMARS Trace Gas Orbiter
(Joint mission ESA and Russia)
ESA logo 2016 SCHIAPARELLI EDM lander
Lander crashed

IS THERE LIFE ON MARS?

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Mars, the Red planet © NASA

 

In 1877, the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed Mars through a telescope and made a map of its surface. What he saw were lines crisscrossing the planet. He referred to them as "canali" which was translated as "canal" instead of "channel". In the early 1900's some people imagined intelligent life forms digging canals on Mars to bring water to populations which needed it. Such an explanation is called a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a scientific guess based on observations. Scientists verify hypotheses using further observations and experimentation.

Method: To get a closer look at the surface of Mars, the United States government agency NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) sent several Mariner probes in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

A Viking lander © NASA

 

The spacecraft orbited the planet closely to take pictures. In 1975, two spacecraft were sent to land on the surface of Mars: Viking I and Viking II. They not only took pictures, but observed the soil.

 

The surface of Mars as photographed by the Viking lander © NASA

 

The twin peaks of Mars as photographed by the Viking lander © NASA

 

Robot arms performed several experiments to determine if the soil contained living organisms. In the summer of 1997, the Pathfinder mission continued observations and experiments with a vehicle that could move along the surface to explore a large area.

Results: The Mariner and Viking photos revealed that Mars has structures on its surface which are identical to dry river beds on Earth. These photos did not show signs of vegetation, canals, footprints or other signs of life. The Viking landers found no insects or other organisms in the soil.

 

Pathfinder on the Martian surface © NASA

 

The results of the experiments to find microscopic life were mixed. Most experiments had negative results but some had positive results. Unfortunately, the positive results could be explained by chemical reactions in the soil, not biological reactions. In terms of atmospheric conditions, the planet Mars is very cold (-23°C) and the atmosphere is almost entirely C02. The Pathfinder mission has not found life on Mars' surface yet, but may reveal some surprises in the years to come.

Conclusion: Mars does not have life on its surface. The dry river beds give the impression that there was liquid water there in the past. Since water supports life, living organisms may have evolved on Mars millions of years ago. The only water on Mars now is frozen at its north and south poles.

Future experiments: Although there is little evidence that life could exist on the surface of Mars, some scientists have formulated a hypothesis which supposes that life could exist under the surface, deep below the dry river beds.

NASA claims to have found traces of microscopic organisms that lived on Mars millions of years ago, but many scientists question the authenticity of the discovery. Future experiments will prove or disprove whether what NASA found was formed by extraterrestrial life or not.

 

 

 

 

 

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