Robots on Mars

Humans have studied Mars from afar for hundreds of years. The first astronomers to study the surface with telescopes once imagined that a civilisation were living on the surface when they saw long straight lines on the surface which they thought were canals. However, when our telescopes improved and we could make out more detail on the surface we discovered that these were simply geological features on the surface, which may be dried up river beds. It's thought that Mars once had oceans and river much like Earth, but these disappeared a long time ago, and now the only water left on Mars is in the form of ice which we can see at the poles, just like on Earth.

We still do not have the ability to send people to Mars, and so for decades we have instead been sending more and more advanced robots to explore the surface of the planets and conduct experiments. One such rover, known as Curiosity, landed on Mars on the 5th August 2012 and has been exploring the planet ever since - powering itself through an on board nuclear reactor which uses the decay of a massive nucleus to produce energy! 

A picture of the Curiosity rover, taken with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Credit: NASA

Curiosity's main goal was to see if Mars could have ever supported life, back when water flowed on the surface, and it hopes to find remains of some sort of life on the planet, most likely fossilised microbes. It has found that the conditions once existed for life on the planet. By analysing rock samples Curiosity has found evidence for the building blocks of life: Nitrogen, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Carbon, along with some Sulphur and Phosphorus. Yet is continues to travel the surface, exploring new regions and keeping the search for more evidence.

On the 5th June 2017 a space craft which is orbiting around Mars, known as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, actually managed to take a photograph of Curiosity going about it's daily business (right).

It's amazing to see that our technology has now become so advanced that our observations can make out an object just 3 metres long on the surface of another planet! 

We can't wait to see where this advanced technology leads us in the future!