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Mars missions and climate change

Monday, December 30, 2013
Science and Society

Of late, weather change seems constant. Locally we have witnessed the demise of the well-defined dry and rainy seasons and an increase in the daytime temperature. Globally, there has been an intensification of severe weather. 


While it is generally acknowledged that the activities of mankind are contributing factors, it is still not quite clear to what extent this is the case. Cyclical climate variations have also been pointed to and the debate rages on unabated. In the midst of this, there is a longer-term concern for the atmosphere itself, which is needed to support life on earth. 


What happens if the atmosphere of the earth is stripped away? Put in a somewhat simplistic form: what would happen to us if the air that we breathe, that supports life and rainfall, which constitutes pleasant, cooling evening breezes and which also forms into violent hurricanes, were to be lost to space? Could this happen and if it does, how would the earth look? Seeking answers provides a motivation for exploring the planet Mars.


At present Mars is cold and dry. There is no water and hence it cannot support life as we know it. But this was not always the case. Evidence, like water channels and minerals that typically form in water, shows that in the very distant past, there were lakes, oceans, clouds and rain on Mars. As it lost its atmosphere to space, the water disappeared.


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