That’s because from our vantage point here on Earth, the sun is shining directly at Mars. “And then the planet sets, and then the sun comes up in the morning”. Coinciding with this, researchers with the Italian Space Agency announced on Wednesday their discovery of a large reservoir of liquid salt water underneath the polar cap of Mars. “Not quite as bright as Venus, but still because of the reddish, orange-ish-red color, you really can’t miss it in the sky”.
However, some of the planetary detail on Mars won’t be seen as clearly.
“This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments”, says Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment and lead author of the paper published in the journal Science. At the same time, it will also be the brightest since 2003.
On Earth, one group of organisms known as “halophiles” thrive in highly salty conditions such as those found in the Dead Sea and Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
Both Mars and Earth, of course, orbit the sun. The new aquifer under South Pole points to similar subsurface lakes on Mars and now the competition to detect the same would grow. The planet was observed near opposition, when the Sun, Earth and Mars are lined up, with Earth sitting in between the Sun and Mars.
The search for life on Mars-and the quest to send humans to Mars-just got one step closer. Although 15 years might not sound like a particularly long time to some, H.R. MacMillan Space Centre astronomer Kat Kelly assures it will be a once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity for many based on the next time the two planets will be this close to one another.
“As those planes vary year after year, the average distance in the encounters between Earth and Mars is also changing”, he said. The last examples are the stunning images the space telescopes took of Mars and Saturn as they flew close to Earth, recently.
Mars is always brighter than usual during opposition. In their quest to find out if Mars was ever able to support life, NASA’s Curiosity Rover, which first landed on Mars back in August of 2012, found ancient lake beds.
There is another celebrated celestial event later this summer.
That said, current NASA policies are focused more on the moon than Mars, so it’s not clear when a manned mission might happen.
He said that people can expect to see about 100 meteors streaking across the sky every hour.