Could there really be life on Mars? This question has fascinated mankind for generations. And of all the planets in the Solar System, Mars’ Earth-like qualities make it the number one candidate for exploration. The Martian year is twice as long as Earth’s, but visitors would still experience winter and summer seasons thanks to the planet’s tilted axis. Mars rotates at almost the same frequency as the earth, making its days just 40 minutes longer than our own. We wouldn’t mind an extra 40 minutes each day.
However, for this to be possible, Mars must be able to support life. And the recent discovery of a large, watery lake beneath an icecap on the Red Planet brings us a step closer. The discovery is “very exciting,” said Taskin Padir, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University, whose work is focused on finding ways to explore Mars by a robot. “These natural resources will be invaluable when we send people up there.”
He explained that scientists used orbiting radar technology to scan below the Martian surface. The long electromagnetic waves penetrate rough surfaces without damaging them and based on how they bounce back, scientists can determine what they bounced off of. The results that came back were best matched to “water-bearing materials”.
Now come in the main questions, how extensive this subsurface water system is and whether it contains the organic matter necessary to support life. “Depending on how pervasive this is, it could really change the whole game of how we’re thinking about Mars,” says Cordula Robinson, associate teaching professor in the Geographic Information Technology program at Northeastern University.
Specially designed robots that can be remotely operatedtodrill, excavate, penetrate the dirt, and melt the ice can gather more information by probing the surface of Mars.The discovery of liquid water stands to make a human trip to Mars more feasible. “Knowing even a little bit more about Mars will make the trip that much easier,” Padir said. “In that general context, I think this is a step toward realising that mission,” he adds.