Planetary scientists have a lot of questions about Mars, and it may not be long before they get a chance to answer them. One of the most pressing of those questions is: what was Mars like during the early days of our solar system?
It can be tough to know for sure, but certain aspects of the red planet’s surface tell stories about its past, and NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) could become the ideal observatory for investigating said aspects.
Image Credit: NASA
A statement issued by NASA this week underscores how the JWST will include Mars in its Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO) project. This means that planetary scientists will get a chance to study Mars with the JWST from May to September in 2020.
So what will the JWST be looking for? Project leader Heidi Hammel has the scoop:
“Webb will return extremely interesting measurements of chemistry in the Martian atmosphere,” she explained. “And most importantly, these Mars data will be immediately available to the planetary community to enable them to plan even more detailed Mars observations with Webb in future cycles.”
There’s no telling what the JWST might find in its initial observations, but we do know that the Martian surface contains evidence of a watery past. While such flowing waterways don’t still exist today, these atmospheric observations could potentially tell us more about what happened to all that water, and how these changes impacted the Martian environment over time.
“With Webb, we can obtain a real and accurate measurement of the ratio of H2O to HDO across Mars, permitting us to determine how much water was truly lost. We also can determine how water is exchanged between polar ice, the atmosphere, and the soil,” added Geronimo Villaneuva from NASA’s Goddard Space Center.
Despite several delays to date, NASA’s JWST is nearing an official Spring 2019 launch. Much of its assembly and testing have already taken place, but there are still a few additional odds and ends to complete before it’s space-worthy.
Without a doubt, it should be interesting to see what the James Webb Space Telescope can tell us about Mars, but the real excitement comes from what it might find when it begins peering deep into outer space.