First results from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provide provocative new evidence that there were diverse watery habitats capable of supporting life on Mars eons ago. MRO is also finding evidence of recent Martian climate changes only hundreds of years apart that could influence Earth climate studies.
MRO is being operated at the red planet, about 240 million mi. away, much like U.S. National Reconnaissance Office imaging satellites are operated over Earth to look at military intelligence targets. Lockheed Martin, which is commanding the spacecraft, is using the experience and software heritage it gained during decades of secret U.S. national security space operations, as well as other Mars missions, for effective MRO commanding with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The initial findings result from the first few dozen images acquired by the $720 million mission during a week of intensive instrument checkout this month in the new 186-mi. science orbit reached after five months of complex aerobraking.
In addition to new data on potential watery habitats for ancient life, the early information is also likely to become a factor in climate assessments about Earth as well as Mars. MRO has already found unexpectedly narrow banding in the north Martian polar cap, providing a window into periods of rapid and somewhat recent climate change on Mars (see top photo). The data should help researchers address issues such as global warming on Earth, where there's debate about whether rapid climate changes are affected by human activity--no factor on Mars.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Posted by Will Baird at Friday, October 27, 2006