Dust-storm activity captured by the Mars Color Imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, 2018 (NASA/JPL)
Please Note: This program has an updated time (originally 6:45-8:45 p.m. ET).
Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, is the most explored planet in our solar system besides Earth, and for good reason. Although its surface is cold, barren, and inhospitable today, accumulated evidence from nearly 50 years of robotic exploration by orbiters, rovers, and landers suggests that Mars was once much more Earth-like and probably capable of supporting microbial life. NASA’s fleet of Mars rover missions--including Opportunity, Spirit, Curiosity, and most recently Perseverance—has revolutionized our understanding of the history and habitability of the Red Planet.
Katie Stack Morgan, the deputy project scientist on the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission and a mission scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory mission’s Curiosity rover, explains why Mars remains the best place in the solar system to look for signs of ancient life. She presents recent highlights from the Perseverance rover mission and discusses Perseverance’s role in plans to bring rock, sediment, and atmosphere samples from Mars back to Earth.
The Grand Tour of the Solar System series treks to the Sun and the four inner terrestrial planets before traveling outward to the asteroid belt, four Jovian planets, and beyond. At each session, a professional astronomer explores a solar system body, presenting the latest research.
Following the talk and a question-and-answer period, Peter Plavchan, a professor of physics and astronomy at George Mason University, brings that night’s sky right into participants’ living rooms via remote control of the university observatory, weather permitting.
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