Here’s what we’ve learned about the fourth planet from the sun while orbiting it, landing on it and sampling its contents: It’s cold, dusty and dry, but that probably wasn’t always the case. Ample data seem to point toward liquid water rushing over its surface in the form of lakes, rivers and an ocean at some undetermined point in the past. Traces of methane have been detected in the atmosphere, but the source is unknown. On Earth, much of the methane is produced by living organisms, like cows, which could bode well for the possibility of life on Mars. On the other hand, the gas could also have nonbiological origins, such as the Martian volcanoes.
One thing we do know: Humans won’t be walking on Mars in the immediate future. All manner of robots will be cruising its dusty surface long before we do, including possibly some inflatable, lightweight probes that will roll around and gather data.
The next best thing to exploring Mars is reading about it, right? So get ready to launch into the fascinating world of the red planet. How did it form? What’s the weather like? And most important, has water or life on Mars ever existed?
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