5 things we learned about Mars in 2022

Mars has always been a source of wonders. What secrets does the Red Planet hold? There have been further advances in our understanding of our planetary neighbor this year, thanks to a new team of rovers currently surveying the planet’s surface. Grab a telescope and join us as we round up some of the great discoveries on Mars cosmos has covered in 2022.

1. How does Mars sound?

NASA’s Perseverance recorded the soundscapes of Mars. Like an overzealous love interest, the plucky, car-sized Rover has been sending back mixtapes of his recordings incessantly.

With a very thin atmosphere, Mars doesn’t have many audible weather events. Oh, and there wasn’t any alien chatter either, in case you’re wondering. At one point it was so quiet that scientists wondered if the microphones were broken.

But there were some sounds of scientific importance.

The playlists include dust devils, different speeds of sound depending on frequency, and evidence that Mars’ noise is seasonal. Keep your ears peeled for the next Martian Hottest 100 I say.

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2. Molten magma hiding beneath the surface of Mars

Orbital view-of-cerberus-fossae-on-mars
This image, acquired on 27 January 2018 during orbit 17813 by ESA’s Mars Express mission’s High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), shows part of the Cerberus Fossae system in Elysium Planitia near the Martian equator. Source: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Mars is like Earth in many ways, but cold and dead inside. Sort of like the Daria of the solar system. Or so we thought.

Seismic activity measured by NASA’s InSight lander showed that there may indeed be pockets of molten lava beneath the red planet’s surface. A Marsquake (an earthquake, but on Mars) showed that a pocket of material beneath Martian crust behaved like goo rather than solid rock – suggesting it had melted.

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Volcanism like this could indicate that certain parts of Mars (possibly deep underground) may be viable. Lizardmen from Mars maybe?

The same dataset was used to confirm the size of the red planet’s core. Incidentally, it has a diameter of 3,620 kilometers.

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3. Models propose there could been life

Illustration from Valles Marineris, Mars. Credit: MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty.

We are obsessed with the prospect of finding life on Mars – dead or alive. But in the absence of direct evidence confirming the existence of organisms on the Red Planet, sometimes it is enough just to ask the question: was it even possible? From then on you can let your imagination run wild.

That’s exactly what French researchers did in 2022.

Using advanced computer models to show that the surface of Mars would have supported liquid water, at least intermittently, about 4 billion years ago.

Their study also shows that the environmental and chemical conditions on Mars at this time, called the Noahian Period, could supported methane-producing life.

So, early Mars could have been home to bloating microbial life 4 billion years before we were born. Good to know.

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4. AI determines the origin of the Martian meteorite

Black Beauty Meteorite Nasa
Fragment of the Black Beauty meteorite. Photo credit: NASA.

As we send rovers to Mars, Mars sometimes makes its way to us.

One of the most famous Martian meteorites, Black Beauty, was found in North Africa in 2011. The 320 g rock is the oldest Martian meteorite.

Researchers have used an artificial intelligence program to determine which of Mars’ many impact craters is the site of the collision that led to debris falling to Earth in the form of Black Beauty millions of years ago.

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The Pawsy supercomputer in Perth, Western Australia, found the impact site on the red planet now called Karratha Crater, named after the Pilbara town of Karratha – home to one of the oldest terrestrial rocks.

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5. Liquid water! Yes! No! Perhaps!

An image of Mount Sharp on Mars taken by the Curiosity rover. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Like the question of whether red wine is good or bad for you, each new paper on the possible existence of liquid water on Mars seems to refute the claims of the previous ones. But we all hope the Red Planet holds oases.

Such a find would greatly increase the likelihood that we are not pathetically alone on this rock hurtling through space. There may be wet, green microbes on Mars that we can communicate with!

But it’s still unclear whether Mars has liquid water on its surface. We know this from before, from the unmistakable imprints carved into the surface of the earth by rivers and oceans billions of years ago.

There was evidence of a subglacial liquid lake on Mars in 2018. The same researchers came back in 2022 with more evidence. This was then refuted with an alternative explanation of the results. Then the refutation was refuted. I envision more of this back and forth to be seen in 2023 and beyond.

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