By Joe Palca
If you’re planning a trip to Mars, now is the time to go.
For a month or so, Earth and Mars line up in a way that makes it possible to go from one to the other. Miss that window, and you have to wait two years for the next opportunity. The United Arab Emirates, China and the United States all have missions scheduled for launch in July.
NASA’s entry is a six-wheeled rover called Perseverance. It’s aiming for Jezero crater, a spot on Mars that scientists think was once a lake where microbes could have lived. Landing is set for Feb. 18, 2021.
Kathryn Stack Morgan is the mission’s deputy project scientist. Other rover missions have seen signals of carbon that could have been left behind by microbial life, but, she says, “We haven’t been able to necessarily link the presence of that carbon to a particular pattern of texture that we see in the rock that we think could have been left behind by life.”
Even if Perseverance detects carbon and sees a pattern in a rock that could have been left behind by life, the claim that there was once life on Mars would be extraordinary, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.