You are here

Mars at Opposition III

April 9, 2014

Living on Mars won’t be easy. Explorers will be challenged by radiation, extreme cold, prickly dust, and the danger of obliteration by space rocks.

The Martian atmosphere is quite thin, so it doesn’t hold in much heat. Combined with Mars’s distance from the Sun, that makes the planet extremely cold. And the atmosphere and magnetic field do little to screen out radiation from the Sun and beyond.

Those challenges could be handled by covering a habitat with a layer of Martian dirt, which would keep the heat in and the radiation out. Yet the dirt itself is another challenge. It’s quite fine, so it would be tough to filter out. It could cause respiratory problems, and short out electrical equipment.

The thin Martian air presents another problem: It lets a lot of space rocks hit the surface. On Earth, all but the largest space rocks either burn up or explode high in the atmosphere. But on Mars, many more rocks survive to hit the surface.

Last year, for example, a Mars-orbiting spacecraft discovered an impact crater that had been gouged sometime during the past three years. The crater is about a hundred feet across, and the impact blasted debris for miles in every direction. So anything within a few miles of the impact likely would have been destroyed by the shockwave or falling debris — one more hazard for Mars explorers.

And Mars is putting in its best showing of the year. It looks like a brilliant orange star, and is in view all night.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.