New space telescope to study Mars
The James Webb Space Telescope is set to target the Red Planet to reveal fresh secrets and potential signs of life
NASA’s James Webb Telescope will be used to study how Mars turned from a wet to a dry planet in a bid to discover fresh clues about its past and present habitability. The space agency says the telescope will be able to take a snapshot of the entire disk of Mars at once, allowing astronomers to see how much water escapes into space.
Webb, which is seen as the successor to Hubble, will watch the normal-water-to-heavy-water ratio (H20 to D2O) during the different seasons and gather data at different times and locations. It will test the theory that D2O – which includes a heavy hydrogen called deuterium – remains on Mars, while the lighter molecules are lost to space. As NASA explains, a skewed ratio of H2O to D2O on Mars would be indicative of how much water has escaped.
“We can also determine how water is exchanged between polar ice, the atmosphere and the soil,” says Geronimo Villanueva of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. When Webb targets Mars in 2020 as part of a Guaranteed Time Observation project, it will offer unprecedented resolution and sensitivity. “Observations of Mars will test Webb's capabilities in tracking moving objects across the sky,” says Stefanie Milam, also of Goddard.
Webb is set to be launched in
2019. Care will have to be taken not to swamp the telescope's delicate instruments with light, but its work in detecting small differences in light wavelengths will follow years of studies into the loss of Martian water and the planet's changing environment.
The JWST will help with discoveries on the Red Planet