And how about channels on Mars?

By Zbigniew KozioĊ‚

"Of all the men through history who have posed questions and proposed answers about Mars, [ Percival Lowell was ] the most influential and by all odds the most controversial" - that is what a biographer says. What the future generations will think about ours exploration of Mars?

Lowell is famous of his discovery in June 1894 of channels on the surface of Mars. He attributed their existence to the presence of intelligent, organized life on that planet. Now, we know that his conclusions were based more on his own imagination than on really reliable scientific observations.

NASA however does not give up. While it scales back its immediate plans to explore Mars, it announced at the same time that features suggesting presence of liquid water near the martian surface were observed. "The new images show the smallest features ever observed from martian orbit - the size of a large car - and are comparable to features left by flash floods on Earth." Meanwhile, as reported recently in Geophysical Research Letters, a research on Martian meteorite recovered in Antarctica indicates that Mars might have a below surface reservoir of water. An example picture shown (courtesy of NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems) suggests existence of Martian gullies, perhaps as young as thousands of years old or even newer. They have been photographed with high resolution by the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor. Hence, there is a good reason to think again about the brave hypothesis of Percival Lowell about existence of life on Mars!

Not NASA however but European organizations are going to explore actively the red planet. The Mars Express Orbiter programme is being realized by the European Space Agency (ESA), with Polish participation in there. Hence, Europeans want to be the first who will shake hands of aliens. The launch is planned on June 2003 by using Russian rocket Soyuz from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The arrival to Mars is expected in late December 2003. The space craft will have on its board several scientific instrument: Energetic Neutral Atoms Analyzer (ASPERA), High Resolution Stereo Colour Imager (HRSC), IR Mapping Spectrometer (OMEGA), Atmospheric Fourier Spectrometer (PFS), Radio Science Experiment (RSE), UV Atmospheric Spectrometer (SPICAM), Sub-surface Sounding Radar/Altimeter (SSRA), and Lander communications package.

The Polish made Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) will study the atmosphere in infra-red, enabling 3D charts of temperature and pressure to be produced. It has been tasted already at the Center for Cosmic Research in Warsaw and in laboratories of European Space Agency.