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By Earth standards, the air is preposterously thin; air pressure atop Mount Everest is about 50 times higher than it is at the Martian surface. Despite the thin air, Martian breezes can gust up to 60 miles an hour, kicking up dust that fuels huge dust storms and massive fields of alien sand dunes.

Once upon a time, though, wind and water flowed across the red planet. Not so today: Though water ice abounds under the Martian surface and in its polar ice caps, there are no large bodies of liquid water on the surface there today. Mars also lacks an active plate tectonic system, the geologic engine that drives our active Earth, and is also missing a planetary magnetic field. But in the ancient past—up until about 4.

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What shut down the Martian dynamo? Scientists are still trying to figure out. The peak is so massive, it curves with the surface of Mars.

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If you stood at the outer edge of Olympus Mons, its summit would lie beyond the horizon. The gorges span about 2, miles and cut up to 4. The valleys get their name from Mariner 9, which became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet when it arrived at Mars in About 4.

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The highlands of the southern hemisphere, however, are studded with many extinct volcanoes, and the crust there can get up to 62 miles thick. What happened? At some point in the distant past, the red planet gained its two small and irregularly shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos. The two lumpy worlds, discovered in , are named for the sons and chariot drivers of the god Mars in Roman mythology. How the moons formed remains unsolved. But recent models instead suggest that they could have formed from the debris flung up from Mars after a huge impact long ago. Deimos, the smaller of the two moons, orbits Mars every 30 hours and is less than 10 miles across.

Its larger sibling Phobos bears many scars, including craters and deep grooves running across its surface.

What did NASA's Opportunity Rover find on Mars? (Episode 4)

Scientists have long debated what caused the grooves on Phobos. Since the s, humans have robotically explored Mars more than any other planet beyond Earth. Currently, eight missions from the U. But getting safely to the red planet is no small feat. Of the 45 Mars missions launched since , 26 have had some component fail to leave Earth, fall silent en route, miss orbit around Mars, burn up in the atmosphere, crash on the surface, or die prematurely.

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More missions are on the horizon, including some designed to help search for Martian life. NASA is building its Mars rover to cache promising samples of Martian rock that a future mission would return to Earth.

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  5. In , the European Space Agency and Roscosmos plan to launch a rover named for chemist Rosalind Franklin , whose work was crucial to deciphering the structure of DNA. Future missions must either find surface regions where erosion from wind-blown sand has recently exposed very ancient material, or alternately samples must be obtained from a shielded region beneath the surface. Submit your name by Sept. The Mars Exploration Program studies Mars as a planetary system in order to understand the formation and early evolution of Mars as a planet, the history of geological processes that have shaped Mars through time, the potential for Mars to have hosted life, and the future exploration of Mars by humans.

    The strategy has evolved as we have learned more about Mars and as more questions have arisen.

    Donald Trump's Mars mission given $150m boost from Scott Morrison as NASA shows off Gold Logie

    The Slow Charm of Brain Terrain. Exposing the Rock in Impact Craters. InSight's First Image from Mars. Astrobiology Astrobiology is a relatively new field of study, where scientists from a variety of disciplines astronomy, biology, geology, physics, etc.

    Key points:

    Past, Present, Future, Timeline. November 26, Lifting the veil on Mars. Expanding our robotic presence. Setting the stage for human exploration.

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