If you look at Mars in the sky, you can see an orange to blood-red coloration that is already noticeable with the naked eye, which is why it was named Mars (or Ares), the god of war. The cause of the red coloration is the chemical composition of its surface: it has a very high proportion of iron oxides, commonly known as rust. The fine iron oxide dust covers the soil and is additionally distributed in the thin atmosphere of the planet due to wind.
Visible with the naked eye in the night sky, Mars has always captured the imagination of humans. Scientists have been able to extract many of its secrets from the Earth-like celestial body in recent decades – but the big question of life is still unanswered today.
Since the beginning of the 1960s, Mars has been a regular target of unmanned space missions, which, despite many setbacks, have continued to this day.
If we assume that we could soon launch a manned mission to the planet Mars from Earth, the shortest route would be open in a time window of about two years; Earth and Mars are particularly close to each other about every two years.
Today Mars is a largely dry planet. But in the past – as numerous studies have shown – Mars also had liquid water. An international research team led by Geronimo Villanueva from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, USA, has now presented a two-dimensional map of the isotopic composition of water in the Martian atmosphere for the first time in the journal “Science”. From this map it can be concluded how large the primordial ocean of Mars must have been.
In the search for extraterrestrial life, one substance plays a special role alongside water and oxygen: methane. This gas is present in trace amounts in the Martian atmosphere and its concentration fluctuates greatly. Some researchers had therefore already speculated that the activity of microbes was the origin of the methane on Mars. As researchers report now in the technical periodical “Geophysical Research Letters”, these fluctuations are however not necessarily an indication of life. Also electrical discharges over ice surfaces, which originate from so-called dust devils, can produce methane. The researchers were able to simulate this in the laboratory.