Mars exploration: Astronomy research paper topic

The joint is jumping – on Mars! A good research topic for your science, engineering or astronomy class is to report on the exciting new projects happening on the Red Planet.

View of Victoria Crater from panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. (Credit: JPL.NASA.gov)

View of Victoria Crater from panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. (Credit: JPL.NASA.gov)

Recent science articles report how the Opportunity rover broke the record for off-Earth travel, and how a new lander will research Martian soil, minerals and atmosphere. Consult science and technology journals and websites for information on Mars exploration.

Longest off-world drive

The Mars rover Opportunity set the record in July 2014 for driving the farthest of any other wheeled vehicle not on Earth. Opportunity has traveled 40.25 kilometers (25 miles) during its ten-year lifespan. It was expected to last only 90 days. “People made bets early on—‘Maybe we can get to the first Martian winter,’ ‘Maybe we can get two years out of it’—but no one thought that it would last this long,” said John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in “Mars Rover Breaks Longest Off-World Driving Record,” reported by Janet Fang on IFL Science on July 30, 2014. Opportunity’s twin rover Spirit lost solar power and stopped generating electricity in 2010.

Opportunity’s total mileage beat the record previously set by the Soviet Lunokhod 2 rover that drove a total of 39 kilometers (24.2 miles) on the moon in 1973. Coincidently, Opportunity’s travels brought it to a crater on Mars named Lunokhod, after the Soviet rover. The Lunokhod 2 in turn beat the record of 35.7 kilometers set by the Apollo 17 Lunar Rover in 1972.

Farthest one-day journey

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity made headlines in July 2013 when it drove the farthest in one day, driving 109 yards (103 meters) or a football field long. One hundred yards in one day may not sound like much, but it’s not easy remotely driving a car when you’re millions of miles away!

New InSight lander

An interesting research topic could be the new Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (or InSight), the new lander that will launch in 2016. It is a stationary lander, not a rover, with a three-legged landing platform and two round solar arrays – designed similar to the Phoenix lander, which studied microbial life on Mars in 2008.

In “InSight into NASA’s next Mars lander” posted on NASA Spaceflight May 25, 2014, Marshall Murphy reported: “Deemed by NASA as ‘the first check-up of Mars in more than 4.5 billion years,’ the InSight mission seeks to peer into Mars’ internal activity to study the processes that formed the layered interior structure of Mars and other Earth-like planets.”

On its two-year mission, InSight will conduct experiments to study Mars’ planet substrate. InSight will hammer down into Mars’ surface to measure subterranean temperatures, use a seismometer to detect “marsquakes,” and calculate the precession, or wobble, of Mars’ axis. These tests will help scientists learn more about the planet before sending humans there.

More exploration of Mars and new rover

NASA also announced plans for the next generation of rovers on the Red Planet that will land in 2020. Designed to look like today’s rover Curiosity, the new rover will carry the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) that will test how to convert carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere into oxygen, a necessity for humans to breathe on the planet. The rover will also have 3D cameras and SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence of Organics & Chemicals), otherwise known as spectrometers to look for organic chemicals in the soil needed for farming.

“The 2020 rover will help answer questions about the Martian environment that astronauts will face and test technologies they need before landing on, exploring and returning from the Red Planet,” said NASA’s William Gerstenmaier, who works on human missions, in the article “NASA’s next Mars rover will make oxygen, look for farmland” by Ben Brumfield, posted on CNN August 3, 2014.

Advocates for science

Who cares what’s happening millions of miles away? Teachers and scientists do. “Emerging computer, telecommunication, and visualization technologies—many of them spin-offs of the space program—offer powerful new tools for students to analyze a wide range of planetary data and create their own inquiry-based investigations,” said Steve Metz in “Earth and Space,” published in The Science Teacher, February 2013. “Virtually everything we do is intimately connected to the Earth. It is time that Earth and space science, long considered a minor field, receives its proper due as an essential component of 21st-century science education.”

For more information on astronomy, check out Questia’s Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy library.

What scientific discoveries are you looking forward to on Mars?

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