The exploration of Mars and its two natural satellites, Phobos and Deimos, has been a cornerstone of space science for decades. The Martian system holds a wealth of knowledge about the evolution of our solar system and the potential for life beyond Earth. In recent years, missions such as Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) have provided new data and insights, expanding our understanding of the Martian system.
- Geological and Geophysical Properties of Mars
Mars has a diverse geology, characterised by the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons, and the expansive Valles Marineris canyon system. The planet's surface is divided into two main regions: the northern lowlands and the southern highlands. Recent findings suggest that the lowlands may have once held vast oceans, which could have supported life in the distant past. Additionally, the discovery of extensive subsurface water ice deposits and the detection of seasonal methane emissions point to a complex and active geological past.
- Atmospheric Composition and Dynamics
The Martian atmosphere is composed mainly of carbon dioxide (95.3%), with traces of nitrogen (2.7%), argon (1.6%), and other gases. Despite its thin nature, the atmosphere is capable of supporting weather phenomena such as dust storms and water ice clouds. MAVEN and TGO have provided valuable information on the Martian atmosphere's structure and dynamics, including the loss of atmospheric gases to space and the role of solar wind in this process.
- Phobos and Deimos: The Enigmatic Martian Moons
Phobos and Deimos are small, irregularly shaped moons that orbit Mars. Their origin remains a subject of debate, with two primary hypotheses: capture of asteroids from the nearby asteroid belt or formation in situ from a debris disc around Mars. Recent spectral analysis and gravity measurements have shed light on the moons' compositions and internal structures, but their origins are still not fully understood.
- Search for Life and Habitability
The search for evidence of past or present life on Mars has been a central focus of Martian exploration. Recent discoveries, such as the presence of organic molecules in Martian soil, seasonal methane emissions, and recurring slope lineae, have fuelled interest in the potential habitability of Mars. The next generation of Martian missions, including the Mars Sample Return mission, will provide further opportunities to investigate the possibility of life in the Martian system.
- Future Exploration and Human Settlement
The Martian system continues to captivate scientists, engineers, and space enthusiasts alike. NASA's Mars 2020 rover, Perseverance, has already begun its mission to search for signs of past life and pave the way for human exploration. International collaboration in the form of missions like the Mars Sample Return and human settlement proposals like SpaceX's Mars Base Alpha demonstrate the ongoing commitment to uncovering the secrets of the Martian system.