One day, we could be Mars.

Not the luminous green blobs with three eyes and wiggling antennae, but humans born and raised on the Red Planet.

NASA researchers are currently spending a year in a simulated Mars habitat in Texas, preparing for the space agency’s ambitious plan to land its first astronauts on Mars in the early 2030s, while the European Space Agency (ESA) prepares for the first round–a journey from Earth to Mars in End of the contract.

But accurate ground maps and local weather data are essential for a safe landing of spacecraft. Researchers at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) are working to bring this dream closer to reality with a Mars Atlas.

It carefully collects more than 3,000 high-resolution images collected by the UAE Fly Emirates The Hope probe — which has been orbiting Mars since 2021 — has created a “beautiful colorful mosaic of the entire planet,” says Dimitra Atre, chair of the Mars Research Group at NYU Abu Dhabi.

“If you look at the history of Mars, many probes have just broken,” says Atre, adding that the thin atmosphere makes it difficult for rockets to slow down, and even low winds can alter landing trajectories. “If a probe crashes, it’s a huge loss of science and resources. But when you’re sending humans, you have to be very careful.”

Atre says understanding daily and seasonal weather patterns can help researchers determine the safest time and place to land.

Subsidence is just one of the challenges that accurate atlases can help overcome: determining the best locations for human settlements in terms of landscape, temperature, and resources is another. “If ice is available, we can turn it into water that can be used for habitation,” Otri explains.

“It may sound silly, but maybe in the future it will be very common for people to go to Mars and even live there,” says Atre.

EMM/EXI/Dimitra Atri/NYU Abu Dhabi Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences

Dimitra Atri plans to publish the new maps in an atlas that will be available to the public.

Dust and desertification

Astronomers have been mapping Mars for nearly two centuries. The first map of Mars was produced in 1840 by Wilhelm Behr and Johann von Madler in Germany. But it was the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli’s 1877 map that sparked a lasting fascination with the idea of ​​a Martian civilization, when the natural water channels he identified on the map were misclassified as artificial waterways.

NASA’s Mariner missions of the 1960s and 1970s provided a better understanding of the terrain of Mars, including the first images of volcanoes, pyroclastic flows, rocky canyons, and massive dust storms. In the decades since, NASA has created a number of maps, including those based on the planet’s minerals, and earlier this year the US space agency released a detailed 3D interactive map of Mars.

The NYU Abu Dhabi map is “the first map to fully use actual color imagery of the entire planet,” says Atre.

NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Sciences now uses the NYU Abu Dhabi map in its Mars 24 program, which keeps precise times on Mars. JMARS, a publicly available database used by NASA scientists for mission planning, has also integrated the atlas into its database.

Scott Dekenshed, JMARS representative, told CNN in an email that the NYU Abu Dhabi map was “created from data obtained recently compared to some of the previous global maps” and provides “an additional perspective of what Mars looks like.”

While the NASA and ESA instruments provide higher-resolution data over a longer period of time, the instrument used to collect data for the NYUAD atlas is able to “observe the entire disk of Mars at once,” says Dekenscheid, adding that this perspective “could It will be very useful for researchers looking to monitor cloud or dust storm activity on a planetary scale.”

Mars and Earth

It is hypothesized that Mars was once a planet covered in water like Earth and could have hosted life, but the thinning of its atmosphere caused cooling and drying leading to its current arid state. Now, it faces regular global dust storms, which have a significant impact on its climate, including blocking radiation and trapping heat, says Atre.

Desertification is a growing problem on Earth, especially in regions such as the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, and Otri believes that climate scientists can apply the data collected on the desertification of Mars to Earth, “to understand what could happen to our planet in the future.”

“My concern is that if we don’t do enough on Earth (to address climate change), it could become Mars-like,” he adds.

EMM/EXI/Dimitra Atri/NYU Abu Dhabi Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences

The new images show details of the Martian terrain, such as the Marineris Valley, known as the “Grand Canyon of Mars”, in amazing detail.

In the future, Atri plans to recreate Martian conditions in the laboratory to study plant behavior. Mars has a harsh, unforgiving environment: very little atmosphere, extremely low temperatures, and high levels of ultraviolet radiation.

Otri says the plants he will study, which grow naturally in the dry, saline soils of desert regions such as the United Arab Emirates, could help us understand how plants can survive the Red Planet’s harsh climate, and allow researchers to find better ways to grow food. in space, or improve agriculture in the arid regions of Earth.

This research is still in the early planning stages, and Atre hopes to get the first real samples from Mars around 2033. But elsewhere, other researchers are already studying how innovations being developed for growing food on Mars could affect Earth.

About 34% of all human-caused global greenhouse gas emissions come from food production, which uses huge amounts of land and water. But the system’s inefficiency means that a third of the world’s food goes to waste, while more than 345 million people suffer from severe food insecurity, and high rates of hunger and malnutrition. Limited resources in space mean that food production technology on Mars must be highly efficient and closed, with little or no waste.

Researchers in the UK last month published an article in the journal Nature Food exploring how controlled ecological agriculture in space could be a “gateway” to developing similar technology on Earth, while two food scientists in Canada published a book arguing that growing food on Mars could transform agriculture. On the ground.

Lessons learned about Mars’ geology, climate and atmosphere could also help us discover whether any of the thousands of planets orbiting stars outside our solar system might be habitable or capable of maintaining an atmosphere, says Atree.

Many scientists believe that life on Earth originated on Mars billions of years ago, and Atre believes that the Red Planet is the ideal laboratory for researching this theory.

“We need to understand our neighbors,” Otri says. “Maybe there was life at some point, or maybe there is life under the surface still alive. Maybe we had a common ancestry. Who knows?”

“This is our best bet for understanding ourselves and where we come from.”

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