This article was originally written by me in Bulgarian and published in the Bulgarian E-zine Dnevnik. The link to the original article can be found here: Destination Mars and the important scientific discoveries of 2018. The text below is shortened and adapted version of the original article.
In the past year, Mars was definitely the focal point many research papers. Looking at the future it will probably be the first planet besides the Earth, which will be colonized by the human species. Recent studies have presented many interesting results for Mars. At the same time, the Red Planet remains so enigmatic and sometimes even inexplicable with the surprises it hides on and below its surface.
Here are three very important discoveries for the Red Planet this year:
The Italian space agency has announced that by using a new type of radar called Marsis, they have detect the presence of liquid water under the frozen poles of the planet. Roberto Orosei, chief scientist at the National Institute of Astrophysics, said the lake in question had a volume of over one trillion liters of water (comparable to the capacity of one of the largest lakes in Europe – Inari).
Dr. Orosei pointed out that many microorganisms are capable of living in extreme conditions, and the availability of liquid water is almost indispensable for the existence of life.
Parallel to finding water, scientists from the US space agency said the Curiosity revealed traces of organic molecules on the surface of Mars. These are compounds of carbon – the same as the ones on Earth which are components of all living organisms.
While this is a very encouraging discovery, NASA scientists remind that finding such molecules on Mars is exciting, it is not a definite proof for the existence of life now or before on the planet. These molecules could be a product of some geological processes as well.
Scientists at the Polar Research Station picked up the first harvest of vegetables grown under 100% artificial conditions. Growing the food without soil and sunshine would be a process similar to growing food on (the way to) Mars. German scientists grew salad, cucumbers and radishes in a high-tech greenhouse, at a constant outside temperature below -20 degrees Celsius.
The "so what" of playing Mars
These three achievements and discoveries, taken together, would be of particular benefit in future travel and colonization of Mars. The availability of liquid water would greatly facilitate the adaptation of the human species to the Martian way of life.
On the other hand, scientists are particularly careful when sending probes and planning missions to the Red Planet, as they would like to protect any traces of current or past Martian life at all costs.