When it comes to space exploration, it’s interesting that scientists want to study both the present and the past. Why exactly? We live in a time when we have access to a lot of technology, which gives us the capability of studying the past. 50 years ago, we didn’t have the same technology, which meant research was limited. Some new research about Mars is going to provide a better look into that history. One aspect of the research looks at the planet’s earliest days, finding that its crust could have solidified even earlier than Earth’s. The second provides further evidence to the idea that surface water could have produced the planet’s network of branching valleys.
What this implies is that how we view Mars now, might not have been what it looked like back then. According to Linda Elkins-Tanton, an Arizona State University planetary scientist, she indicates:
“The main thing we know that makes life possible is the presence of liquid water. And we know that it could have existed all the way back to just after that crystallization and solidification [of the planet’s crust.]”
It was believed that Mars actually finished forming as a planet 5 million years after the Solar System formed. It’s estimated that it then took somewhere between 30 million and 100 million years for the crust to solidify. How do we know this? Over time, chunks of Mars broke off and made their way to Earth in the form of a meteorite. Inside these meteorites, there are clues to the planet’s early history, like when its crystals were formed.
When you look at Mars today, you will notice channels that are cut into the planet, which can be perceived as a network of rivers. While I won’t get into all the science behind this, in order for these to actually be rivers, meltwater or precipitation needs to exist. Based on this, professor Hansjörg Seybold from ETH Zürich hypothesizes that the climate on Mars had a very active hydrologic cycle.
There is so much more to learn about Mars, and the universe, in general. But I think that progress is being made. What’s interesting about these findings, in my opinion, is that it gives researchers the ability to look back on what was. Isn’t that incredible? To be able to understand the composition of a planet millions of years ago takes an incredible amount of research, science, and technology. Technology is changing at a rapid pace, but that technology often gives us the ability to make progress in other aspects of our lives.
When I think about this scenario, it makes me wonder what came first – the chicken or the egg. Meaning – do we start out with the technology to be able to do the research, or do we have to do the research first and then figure out which technology we need to develop? I’m not trying to turn this into a philosophy discussion, but I think it’s something that we should think about at least. I often have this thought because I truly want to understand what comes first in all of these things. But of course, I don’t necessarily have an answer.