In July 2019 the Mars science community met at Caltech, in Pasadena for the 9th International Conference on Mars.
This conference brings together the Mars science community to the geographical heart of planetary science every five years to catch up on the latest findings and plan the future mission. Most of NASA’s planetary missions are developed and flown from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, jointly operated by Caltech and NASA, here in Pasadena.
We have been actively exploring Mars with robots since the 1960s and have been continuously exploring the planet since the 1990s. While results from these missions are presented at conferences throughout the year, this is one of the few Mars focused meetings that active rover and mission operators can take the time from their exploration efforts to meet with the larger Mars science community.
This conference included new results from the InSight lander that is just now starting to get significant results about the geophysics of Mars, reports from the past seven years of exploration at Gale Crater by Curiosity, insight into the deep evolution of the Martian climate by the Maven Orbiter and an emotional send-off to the rover Opportunity after 15 years of work on the Martian surface.
AstroReality’s Chief Science Officer and Planetary Scientist, Dr. J.R. Skok, who is also a Planetary Scientist at the SETI Institute and a science contractor with NASA, attended the conference to present on new concepts for exploring Mars in the future. His scientific research is focused on mapping the minerals, rocks, and resources of Mars while searching for evidence of past life.
One of his favorite personal discoveries was the detection of ancient hot spring deposits in the Nili Patera caldera of the Martian volcano of Syrtis Major. Hot Springs are one of the best environments known to support and preserve evidence of microbe life. After years of mapping these deposits and studying hot springs around the world at sites like Iceland, Yellowstone and El Tatio in Chile, Dr. J.R.Skok and his research team are now developing a robotic mission to Mars to search these rocks for fossils. He was at the 9th Mars Conference to share this mission concept to the Mars community for the first time!
Mars science is at a crossroads. We are learning more and more about less and less. Years of orbiters and rovers have taught us so much about the planet as a whole. We have mapped the planet in many resolutions and wavelengths and have learned what the planet is made of and the best places to land.
However, we are near the limit of what a new camera or instrument from space might tell us. The only way to learn more is to land and really look at the rocks. NASA’s Curiosity rover has been doing this since 2012 and then next Mars 2020 rover will do this even more. But as we get more focused on specific spots on Mars, it becomes harder to push forward the science about major global questions. Mars has the same dry land area as Earth, but our landers and rovers have only explored eight spots. There is much more to explore, but that will take many more rovers, landers and hopefully humans wandering the surface of Mars.
Dr. J.R. Skok also shared our new MARS Pro model with the Mars community. The MARS Pro is our best ever attempt at putting the red planet into your hands. The 3D printed model uses color markings from the Viking Orbiters and topography from the Mars Global Surveyor to recreate the look and feel on the planet.
This model is then enriched with digital data using the AstroReality augmented reality mobile app to transform the latest scientific findings, like those presented at the 9th Mars conference, into a planetary exploration experience that you can have in your hands!