Researchers from four Canadian universities will play an integral role in the upcoming Mars 2016 exploration mission using Canadian-made technology and knowledge.
The mission, which is jointly run by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), will place an unmanned spacecraft into orbit with the red planet and probe its atmosphere for weather patterns, gasses and even signs of former life.
Jack McConnell, a professor of atmospheric science at Toronto’s York University working on the project, says the mission will give scientists a unique look into Mars’ history and atmospheric conditions.
“This is going to be an important, exploratory mission. It’s going to increase our level of understanding of what’s going on in the atmosphere on Mars and maybe it will be able to tell us if there has been life on Mars in the past,” McConnell said.
The York team is contributing a weather forecasting model developed by a former student while a team from Dalhousie University in Halifax will equip the Mars spacecraft with a sensitive imaging device that will show the layering of dust in the atmosphere. Research teams from the University of Toronto and the University of Winnipeg are also participating in the mission.
Physics professor James Drummond leads Dalhousie University’s contribution to the mission and says the best part of the Mars 2016 mission is that it showcases Canadian ingenuity.
“This is Canadian technology, developed in Canada. This is an example where people have come to us and said, ‘We really need your technology.’ This is really a Canadian success story,” Drummond said.
- The Mars unmanned exploration mission is scheduled to launch in 2016 and should begin orbiting the planet by 2018.
- Years on Mars are twice as long as on Earth so the first Martian year of measurements will be completed by 2020 and researchers expect the spacecraft will continue to operate and provide data afterwards.
- Among other things, researchers are looking for proof of methane in the atmosphere. One of the main sources of methane is living biological matter, so a high abundance of methane could signal that Mars once contained life.