Rover Memorial Sites: Where to see the historical first tracks

Rover
Credit: NASA

Explore ancient history and visit the rover memorial sites. 

When humanity first began to investigate the (then) red planet of Mars, they needed something on the ground. That’s where the much-loved Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity came into existence. 

Curiosity: A History

Curiosity Rover
Credit: NASA

The journey for this little car sized rover began on November 26, 2011, when it was thrust into the bounds of space from Cape Canaveral at exactly 15:02. After a lengthy 560 million kilometre journey, Curiosity managed to land on Aeolis Palus on August 6, 2012. No easy feat given that the landing site was a mere 2.4km away from the designated center of the landing field. 

The site was originally picked because it seemed the most likely area to house conditions which could have or could still potentially house microbial life. Curiosity’s mission? Explore the length and possibility of water on Mars as well as begin to study the planet to determine its suitability for human habitation.

At first, the mission was expected to last for two years, but in December of 2012 the mission was extended indefinitely. As of 2532, Curiosity is obviously no longer roaming around the red planet — after all, we have a permanent presence on the surface now. Instead, some of the rover’s tracks have been preserved, and you can still see the little rover’s final resting place on the slopes of Mount Sharp today.

Opportunity: Breaking Earth’s heart one message at a time

When those with a loving heart think of Mars rovers’, they tend to think of Opportunity. 

After a particularly bad dust storm the rover was either damaged beyond repair or was covered in so much dust that its solar panels weren’t able to recharge the batteries. The rover won the hearts of the people with its final message back to Earth, “My battery is low and it’s getting dark”. 

These simple but haunting words drew lots of attention, but it should be noted that Opportunity never actually said these words — a NASA official rephrased the rover’s final scientific readings on low power and high atmospheric opacity somewhat more poetically. Nevertheless, Opportunity remained in the hearts of humanity, with early Mars pioneers swearing to retrieve the lonely little rover and give it its due. It now rests in the Martian History Museum alongside Curiosity and the countless other bots Earth launched over the decades, alone no more.

Why not follow in the footsteps of the rovers?

The areas where these rovers finished their routes are now recognised international parklands. It was, in fact, in the Aeolis Palus region of the Gale where some of Mars’ first standing water was able to be stored after atmospheric conditions allowed. As for Mount Sharp, the hiking is simply incredible amongst the beautiful (now native) conifer trees and other fauna.

Why not revisit what Mars might have been like when the rovers were exploring by visiting a simulator located in one of the many Hab Dome centers? You’ll be transported back to a time when red dust was as far as the eye could see, where there was no atmosphere, and even where there were no settlers! Thanks to terraforming, that’s no longer the case, but it’s always worth remembering just how far we Martians have come!

Let’s Visit: Moons of Mars — Phobos and Deimos

All you need to know about the two Martian Moons, Phobos and Deimos.

Mars Moons Phobos and Deimos
Credit: NASA

Orbiting Mars are two moons, Phobos and Deimos, with very similar surface materials to the many asteroids that make up the outer asteroid belt. In other words, Phobos and Deimos are two very big lumps of space rock — space rock with a fascinating history.

Who discovered Phobos and Deimos?

Credit: WikiData

Both moons of Mars were discovered in 1877 by American astronomer, Asaph Hall. However, what most space settlers don’t realise is that — like much of Earth’s history — there was a woman behind the discovery. 

Frustrated and deflated after years of work, Asaph was about to give up on his search for a moon that orbited the red planet. It was his wife, Angelina that encouraged him not to throw away his dreams quite yet. 

The next night, Asaph saw for the very first time (of the entire human species) the smaller of the two moons, Deimos, through the narrow viewfinder (although the best of the time) of the United States Naval Observatory (USNO) 66cm telescope. Just six nights later, he discovered Phobos.

Where do the names Phobos and Deimos come from?

phobos and deimos greek gods
Credit: Julia Van Hellen

After discovering the two Martian moons, Asaph Hall named them after twin characters from Greek mythology. Phobos and Deimos are the sons of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess associated with love, pleasure, beauty, passion and procreation, known to the Romans as Venus, and Ares — the Greek god which represents the untamed and violent aspect of war, whose Roman counterpart is Mars. 

The twins would often be depicted as horses, accompanying their father to battle. Phobos personified feelings of fear, while Deimos personified feelings of dread felt by those heading to war.

What are the characteristics of the two moons of Mars?

Moons of Mars phobos and deimos
Credit: NASA

Mars’ two moons are oddly shaped and among the smallest moons in our solar system. They are lumpy, riddled with craters, and covered with dust and loose rocks. Not sounding like a great holiday destination? Think again!

If you’re an adrenaline seeker, Phobos might actually be the place for you. As the larger of the two moons, Phobos orbits only 6,000 kilometers from the surface of Mars, that’s closer than any other moon. Not only that, Phobos whizzes around Mars at a rapid rate of three orbits a day. 

Don’t delay your visit too long, though, as the moon is gradually spiraling closer and closer to Mars; within 50 million years, Phobos will either crash or break apart and become part of the asteroid belt. Trust us, you don’t want to be taking you holiday on Phobos when that happens. 

If you’re looking for a more sedate holiday, Deimos is the moon for you. With an axis of only 16 km, Deimos is the perfect desert moon. The smaller of the two moons soars around Mars at a gentle orbit of 30 hours, around 20,000 km from the surface of the red planet, giving you glorious vistas without the fear of, well, fear (just a little Phobos humor we have around here). 

At least for now (before Phobos collides with Mars), the two moons might actually be the best place for observing the fiery red planet of Ares. From the Mars-facing side of the moons, Mars takes up nearly the entire sky, offering a perfect opportunity for surface assessment before terraforming. What’s more, you would be shielded from cosmic rays and solar radiation for nearly two-thirds of every orbit. It doesn’t get much better than that!

The Life of a Star-Settler: Living on Mars

Life on Mars

It’s been 50 years since the first settlers arrived and humans began living on Mars. 

May 18th, 2452: I’ve lived here on Mars all of my life, but that can’t be said for some of the old timers. They knew a different life before launching into the stars. Earth had been dying. Years of reckless fossil fuel burning, tail-to-tail traffic jams, and plundering Mother Earth of her natural resources led to the planet rebelling. Humanity needed an alternative, and our red cousin provided the answer.

I live in New Canterbury, named after the home of the engineers who designed one of the first transport ships, which is the most advanced of the red planet’s cities. We have a burgeoning population of settlers and Marsborn humans — funnily enough now referred to as Martians. The old timers sometimes look up to the skies and yearn for what once was, but me? Nah. This red rock is all I’ve known. 

Life whilst living on Mars

Life on mars

Life is pretty normal here, my home is stationed within one of the many Hab Complexes that make up New Canterbury. The city is high above what is now sea level on the slopes of Olympus Mons — a purposeful choice thanks to the rising sea levels. Sure, positioning a settlement on the slopes of the solar system’s biggest volcano might not sound sensible, but there hasn’t been a peep from it… yet. 

Our atmosphere is controlled enough that we’re able to breathe freely and walk the surface. In fact, nowadays, Mars looks much like earth. The vegetation and plant life is widespread, as are the oceans. It wasn’t always that way. My father had it hard. He remembers Mars as the red, dusty inhospitable rock that it was for millenia before us.

He worked the nearby silver mine. Tearing through the rusty rock for minerals which in turn we would use for our Martian currency. Thanks to those mines, and people like my father, our colony expanded rapidly. Our very own shining star, the Orbital Surveyor, crisscrossed our sky morning, day and night. It seeks out the most efficient and mineral rich areas to mine and has increased our revenue endlessly. With the help of the satellite, we’ve even expanded our mines deep into Valles Marineris, the monster 4000km long 7km deep canyon. Old timers have shown me photos of what they called “The Grand Canyon” that looks like a small crack compared with this.

At the other end of the spectrum, we looked to the sky for farming. Huge sky farms dominate areas of the atmosphere. Their purpose is simply to produce everything that we need to survive, whilst also maintaining our life-sustaining atmosphere.

What could be next after living on Mars?

We’re all fully aware that our world is fragile. It needs to be perfectly balanced, and constantly. Take, for example, yesterday’s AtomGen Suite shutdown. That caused some headaches, literally, as pressure and oxygen maintenance began to go offline and engineers worked around the clock to stabilize our environment. Thus is life as a Martian. 

What’s next for us? Who knows. Although, I’m beginning to see posters talking of Venus around the Varian V space port. I hear it’s warmer there, naturally. Maybe I’ll sign up to one of the ships there and lead the next terraforming expedition. After all, it’s a great big universe, and I’m here to settle the stars.

Maximum Mars: The Records that Mars Holds

Mars

Against giants such as Jupiter, what records can Mars hold? 

Our closest neighbour has remained a piece of intrigue to those of us on Earth for as long as it has been observed. Since its discovery by curious star-gazers belonging to ancient civilizations, Mars has fascinated our human population.

A relatively small, dusty, red rock, one could be forgiven for thinking that, apart from the striking red colour, this was a somewhat uninteresting and insignificant planet. Certainly not one that could hold record titles against other planets in the solar system. Well, this isn’t the case, there are in fact a number of record titles that Mars holds — titles which it looks to be holding onto for some time to come. 

Record Number 1: The Largest Canyon in the Solar System – Valles Marineris

Credit: JPL

Named for the satellite that discovered this area of Mars, Mariner 9, back in 1972, Valles Marineris is a vast canyon system that creeps and crawls through a region known as the Tharsis area. The canyons run along the surface of the red planet for over 4000km. They are over 200km wide in some places and up to 7km deep. Valles Marineris is, by volume, the largest in the solar system and is only just beaten in length by Earth’s own rift valleys.

If you’re looking for a straight forward comparison, think about the Grand Canyon in the US. The Grand Canyon is a mere 800km long and up to 1.6km deep. Valles Marineris is over 5 times as long and almost 4 times as deep in places! Much like the large canyons of Earth, researchers believe that Valles Marineris was created through extended periods of tectonic activity under the Martian surface.

Record Number 2: The Largest Volcano in the Solar System – Olympus Mons

Mars Volcano
Credit: NASA

Olympus Mons. Even the name sounds grand and imposing. Named after the Latin for Mount Olympus, the mythical seat of the Ancient Greek gods and home to Zeus, god of thunder, king of gods. Once more, sounds grand and imposing. And frankly, that’s rightly so.

Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in our solar system — and not by a little, but by a whole lot. After measurements were taken by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA), Olympus Mons was measured to be nearly 22km tall. That makes it around 2.5 times larger than Mount Everest when measured from sea level. The volcano takes the titles largest volcano and tallest planetary mountain but just misses out on the tallest mountain in the solar system by a bit of a loophole from Vesta.

You’d be forgiven for wondering what Vesta is. It’s one of the largest asteroids in the asteroid belt and has claim to the largest mountain, pipping Olympus Mons by only hundreds of metres. This mountain, however, was formed following a massive impact and is part of the Rheasilvia crater. Does that count? Well… just.

Record Number 3: The Largest Impact Crater in the Solar System – North Polar Basin

Credit: PSRD Hawaii

This record isn’t going to get such a good write up as technically it might not even be correct. The North Polar Basin has been hypothesised as an impact crater, and if classified as such would have a ratio of between 125-155% of the planet’s surface with a crater diameter of 10,600 × 8,500 km. But, this has not been recognized as fact by the IAU (International Astronomical Union).

Should it not be deemed an impact crater then this record will be passed to the previously mentioned Rheasilvia crater with a diameter of 505 km but a ratio of 90%.

Mars: The Record Breaker

As humankind begins to explore Mars further who knows which records it might gain or take mantle of in the future. Could it hold the largest known water reserves? The most minuscule life forms? Time will tell!

The History of How We Think of Mars

From canals to Martians, we take a look at the history of the Red Planet.

Illustration of Mars

It’s easy to pass cheap judgement on the brilliant minds of the past when we explore the history of Mars. But you might be forgiven for believing in Martians when you are viewing the planet from more than 50 million km away through the world’s first telescope. What we know about our dusty red neighbour has increased parallel to developments in astronomy and space technology, and we are still making new findings to this day. 

The first recorded observations of Mars were around 400BC

And you won’t be surprised to hear that in those times not a lot could be said for Mars. It was known simply as a fiery red colour in the sky. As was typical during this time, the Greeks decided to give this coloured dot a name. They chose the name Ares, after their god of war. The Romans preferred the name Mars, after their own warmongering deity, and the name stuck.

Galileo was the first person to see Mars through a telescope

Galileo - viewed Mars

The father of observational astronomy, Galileo Galilei, was the first to magnify the image of Mars via telescope in 1609. By the end of the same century, ideas about extraterrestrial life on Mars are considered for the first time. Fast forward to the end of the 18th century and, through advances in telescopic technology, the vital statistics for Mars had been uncovered. Most notably, its distance being 54 million km from Earth, its day being 39 minutes longer than Earth’s, and its two neighbouring moons. During this time, Sir William Herschel also concluded that not only do aliens live on Mars, but also the sun. Clearly, further investigation was still required. 

A simple translation error sparks Martian mania

In 1877 Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli described the lines he could see on Mars through his telescope as “canali”, which translates to “channels” in English. ‘Canali’ was misinterpreted to mean canal by American astronomer Percival Lowell. Considering canals to be a man/alien made entity, Lowell dedicated his life’s work to publishing books which suggested that Martians had been busy constructing a complex water supply system on Mars. As a result, Martian mania was born. 

Adding fuel to the fire, a young Orson Welles produced a radio adapted version of “The War of The Worlds”. Presented in storytelling format, the broadcast unintentionally beguiled New York listeners into fleeing their homes, in the belief they were under attack from the inhabitants of Mars. 

The world of media got wind of the fascination with Mars, and the idea of Martians gave inspiration for comics, movies and music. Rest in peace, David Bowie. 

It took until 1965 to debunk the existence of Martians

In a blunt and conclusive manner, the NASA-launched Mariner 4 space probe broadcasted to Earth images of a dusty barren wasteland. There was a collective groan from the conspiracy theorist community, and Martian mania was as good as over. 

While the fantasists amongst us felt disappointment, others saw an opportunity for a new home for humanity. Curiosity, the NASA space rover, was sent to Mars in 2012 to inspect whether its conditions would be suitable for supporting life on the Red Planet. While we have proven the lack of water on the surface of Mars, there remains hope that dormant life may be present beneath the surface. That is all we need for our imaginations to run wild!