The exploration of the planet Mars was the subject matter of Mr Rod Hines presentation at the December meeting of Keighley astronomical society.
Mr Hine started his presentation with some of the earliest known depictions of the Martian surface.
During the 1877 opposition, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli used a 22 cm (8.7 in) telescope to help produce the first detailed map of Mars. These maps notably contained features he called canali, which were later shown to be an optical illusion.
These canali were supposedly long straight lines on the surface of Mars to which he gave names of famous rivers on Earth. His term canali was popularly mistranslated in English as canals.
In his 1892 work La planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité, Camille Flammarion wrote about how these channels resembled man-made canals, which an intelligent race could use to redistribute water across a dying Martian world. He advocated for the existence of such inhabitants, and suggested they may be more advanced than humans.
Influenced by the observations of Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell founded an observatory with 30-and-45 cm (12-and-18 in) telescopes. The observatory was used for the exploration of Mars during the last good opportunity in 1894 and the following less favorable oppositions.
He published books on Mars and life on the planet, which had a great influence on the public. The canali were found by other astronomers.
Mr Hine explained that these observations influenced science fiction writers the most famous and still popular H.G. Wells and his War of the words’.
On 30th October 1938, Orsen Wells famously dramatised H G Wells story on a 62-minute radio dramatisation . He broadcast a convincing music show that was being cut in to by convincing reports of Martian landings in New York, wielding deadly heat-rays, advancing on the city.
Mr Hine went on the talk about a childhood hero of his the comic strip character Dan Dare. From the Eagle boys publication. One story published in 1956 was Set in 2002, no sooner has Dan arrived back from one space mission, he sets off again to Mars to investigate why all the outposts on Mars have been destroyed and how all the people there had gone missing. As the plot unfolds, we meet Torval : good guy or bad guy? Earth’s installations and mines on Mars are vital for the production of Helenium, which is used to power the spaceships that ferry food to Earth from Venus. Can Dan and crew help restore the supply of Helenium? Dan’s piloting skills are put to the test as he and Digby track down Dan’s Uncle Ivor who has the vital information needed to solve the mystery.
Soon after the space race started probes were sent from Earth. The Soviets launched a series of probes to Mars including the first intended flybys and hard (impact) landing (Mars 1962B).
The first successful fly-by of Mars was on 14–15 July 1965, by NASA’s Mariner 4. The photographs produced my Mariner 4 were the first to disprove the notion of canals on the planet surface.
On 14th November 1971 Mariner 9 became the first space probe to orbit another planet when it entered into orbit around Mars. The amount of data returned by probes increased dramatically as technology improved.
The first to contact the surface were two Soviet probes: Mars 2 lander on 27th November and Mars 3 lander on 2nd December 1971—Mars 2 failed during descent and Mars 3 about twenty seconds after the first Martian soft landing. Mars 6 failed during descent but did return some corrupted atmospheric data in 1974.
The 1975 NASA launches of the Viking program consisted of two orbiters, each with a lander that successfully soft landed in 1976. Viking 1 remained operational for six years, Viking 2 for three. The Viking landers relayed the first colour panoramas of Mars.
The Soviet probes Phobos 1 and 2 were sent to Mars in 1988 to study Mars and its two moons, with a focus on Phobos. Phobos 1 lost contact on the way to Mars. Phobos 2, while successfully photographing Mars and Phobos, failed before it was set to release two landers to the surface of Phobos.
Mars has a reputation as a difficult space exploration target; just 25 of 55 missions through 2019, or 45.5%, have been fully successful, with a further three partially successful and partially failed. However, of the sixteen missions since 2001, twelve of those have been successful and eight of those are still operational.
The British Beagle 2 mission was mentioned. The spacecraft was successfully deployed from the Mars Express on 19th December 2003 and was scheduled to land on the surface of Mars on 25th December; however, no contact was received at the expected time of landing on Mars. ESA declared the mission lost in February 2004, after numerous attempts to contact the spacecraft were made.
The Beagle 2’s fate remained a mystery until January 2015 when it was located on the surface of Mars in a series of images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera. The images suggest that it landed safely, but two of the spacecraft’s four solar panels failed to deploy, blocking the spacecraft’s communications antenna.
NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter entered Mars orbit in 2001. Odyssey’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer detected significant amounts of hydrogen in the upper metre or so of regolith on Mars. This hydrogen is thought to be contained in large deposits of water ice.
In January 2004, the NASA twin Mars Exploration Rovers named Spirit (MER-A) and Opportunity (MER-B) landed on the surface of Mars. Both have met and exceeded all their science objectives.
Among the most significant scientific returns has been conclusive evidence that liquid water existed at some time in the past at both landing sites. Martian dust devils and windstorms have occasionally cleaned both rovers’ solar panels, and thus increased their lifespan. Spirit rover (MER-A) was active until 2010, when it stopped sending data because it got stuck in a sand dune and was unable to reorient itself to recharge its batteries.
On 10th March 2006, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) probe arrived in orbit to conduct a two-year science survey. The orbiter began mapping the Martian terrain and weather to find suitable landing sites for upcoming lander missions. The MRO captured the first image of a series of active avalanches near the planet’s north pole in 2008.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission was launched on 26th November 2011 and it delivered the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars on 6th August 2012. It is larger and more advanced than the Mars Exploration Rovers, with a velocity of up to 90 meters per hour (295 feet per hour). Experiments include a laser chemical sampler that can deduce the composition of rocks at a distance of 7 meters.
MAVEN orbiter was launched on 18th November 2013, and on 22nd September 2014 it was injected into an areocentric elliptic orbit 6,200 km (3,900 mi) by 150 km (93 mi) above the planet’s surface to study its atmosphere. Mission goals include determining how the planet’s atmosphere and water, presumed to have once been substantial, were lost over time.