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Mars en masse

Mars en masse

So far, in 2021 there have been numerous Mars missions, extensively covered by the media. This is due to the fact that last year several institutions sent probes to the Red Planet at a similar time, which, in turn, was caused by Mars’ great opposition that took place in autumn, meaning that its orbit was as close to Earth’s as it can possibly get. These favourable conditions allowed the United Arab Emirates to join the exclusive club of states which managed to send their equipment to Mars’ orbit.

One of the research devices sent to the Red Plant was the Al Amal probe from the United Arab Emirates. We already know that, at least so far, its mission has been a success – the probe reached Mars’ orbit on 9 February 2021. Since it is the first Mars mission in the history of this state, it is an important step in its attempts at space exploration. The UAE probe managed to reach the orbit and contact Earth without any trouble.

If the mission goes as planned, the United Arab Emirates will join the exclusive club of states which managed to send their equipment to Mars’ orbit, which includes the United States, Russia (or rather, the former Soviet Union), India, as well as members of the European Space Agency.

The name Al Amal, which means Hope, reflects hopes placed in the project by the United Arab Emirates. The probe was built by the Dubai-based Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder and University of California Berkeley. It’s one of the few weather probes that won’t be used to study the weather on Earth. To collect data on the weather of Mars, Al Amal was fitted with lots of advanced equipment, including EXI (Emirates eXploration Imager), EMIRS (Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer) and EMUS (Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer). The data will allow researchers to gain insight into Mars’ climate, both now and in the past. We already know that the Red Planet, now covered by dry desert, at one time had much more water and a thicker layer of atmosphere. Much later, some geological mechanisms have caused that atmosphere to fade away into space – some of the chemical elements just evaporated. Because of that, the planet became dry, but we’re not sure why that happened.

Maybe we will find out the answers to these questions when Al Amal begins its research. First, the probe needs to reach its target orbit, where it will circumnavigate Mars every 40 hours, scanning it with its equipment; the said equipment still needs to be thoroughly tested. Al Amal’s mission is planned to last one sol (687 Earth days), but it may well be extended, as it often happens in the case of space probe missions.

It’s worth to note that the United Arab Emirates are the second state in the world that has managed to successfully carry out such a mission at the first try (at least in the most basic sense, i.e. putting the probe on Mars’ orbit). Contrary to what it might seem, that’s not frequently the case. The first Mars mission to be successful at the first try was India’s MOM probe in 2014. Earlier, in 1962, the Soviet probe Mars 1 established connection with its home base only for a period of time, losing it three months before arriving at its destination. It was finally the Americans who managed to successfully complete the mission in 1964, following five unsuccessful attempts by the Soviets and one of their own.

Original text: www.nauka.uj.edu.pl

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