What is this site about?
This section of my website is intended to be a collection of the latest research on the planet Mars. The site will be updated as I get a chance to do so, and it's not a collection of the latest news stories or press releases on Mars. Instead, it's a collection of chapters, if you will, each about a different part of Mars, each largely self contained.
Who is the Intended Audience?
The idea behind this site is that it be used by future explorers of the planet Mars. In a sense, that's potentially all of us, because anyone on Earth can look at the lovely images of the HiRISE camera and make discoveries of their own. But the true people who are really the important audience are the people who are on a voyage to Mars and are worried about what Mars is like, because it's going to be their new home. That's the audience who's going to care about how much it snows on Mars, or why the surface of Mars looks like it does. What's the reason that gullies might be flowing on Mars? Is that going to happen near where I will be living? So that's the first audience.
The second big audience is the scientific community that studies the planet Mars, that includes myself. In a sense this site is something that I would be interested in reading if I was just starting out on my studies, or I wanted to find out what the latest thinking on a particular topic of Martian geology or climate. And this site is also designed to be of interest to other members of that community because I want their help making it the best and most accurate record it can be. This is going to be a living document, not a blog of my daily thoughts, but more of a statue that I am going to polish on a regular basis to get it right as long as I am able to do so. In that way, when explorers do leave for Mars, and that is probably going to be in the 2025 time frame, this project will be complete enough to be of real value. So that's the second audience, and I expect emails from people complaining about something I got wrong or didn't mention - I thank you in advance and acknowledgements of those conversations will appear at the end of each chapter.
What is the writing style?
The writing style of these stories is designed to focus of Martian geophysical systems that change with time. This makes the ideas within more valuable because often these systems can be described by an equation that has time within it, which is the most concise way of getting information about that system across. And this is the way that geophysical scientists think about their work. So if I have an equation to give you I will do so, and often I'll show you plots from the scientific literature that reflect that equation. As humans, we all can relate to systems that bring changes with time, on Earth, we can think of weather systems that bring us rain, snow and sleet. We can think of a long term climate system that brings us warmer seas and bigger cyclones. The scientist in all of us asks - what's behind that system, why are the glaciers getting smaller every year? Why is snow at high altitudes more fun to ski on? Why are there fish fossils at the top of mountains? Then we come up with internal stories about the physical systems that are behind these changes to explain what we see and experience. That's our life on Earth.
But this reaches the nub of our story, and that is that the systems we have on Earth are different from those on Mars. And as a future Martian, you're going to have to learn about them. Often books you read are going to read off numerical facts about Mars like the diameter, the average temperature, the height of the tallest mountain, and so on. But what use are these numbers if you don't know what drives them? In these stories, we're interested in the systems we believe are driving those numbers, which means you don't have to worry about memorizing figures, but just sit back and learn from the best stories. we have about Mars. On your long trip or during your training to go to Mars, we're going to change you from an Earther to a Martian.
Finally, there is another audience that i have in mind for these stories, and that is future born and bred Martians. When you girls and guys come along, it's you that's going to be teaching us. I can't wait for that day to come.
Warries - War Stories with a twist
Back when I was in the Australian Navy, when an older sailor talked to young sailors in a somewhat condescending fashion, in order to pass on the wisdom of their years of experience, they were accused of "spinning a warry". Usually this was something done behind someones back. E.g. if someone was known for telling tales on a regular basis, you might hear "the Bosun is up in his cabin spinning warries about his time on the Titanic again ...". A good warry is like an old wives tale, often retold many times, and depending on the storyteller, contain varying amounts of truth.
Be warned - a normal warry wouldn't include lots of graphical plots and references to the scientific literature, like these stories, but they will be designed to entertain, and especially they are intended to be readable by anyone. In fact, as a challenge to you my dear reader, if I use a term you don't understand, feel free to email me with a question.
So, with this understanding of what I am about to embark upon, here we go - let me spin you a few warries on what I have learned about Mars in my time studying the Red Planet. Here is a list of the warries I have for you so far, in clickable glory, (quite unlike the Bosun's tales of him stepping ashore).
Why are we interested in Mars?
I would contend Mars is an object of fascination for humans due to the mirror it holds up to our experiences. Mars is empty of humans and water and cold as dry at times.
It's an epic wasteland.
But each of us can use that wasteland to see something for us.
For scientists, it's the opportunity to look forward and backward at how a 'failed' planet might have looked, and how we might bring it back to life, or at least bring it back to the fold.
For engineers, Mars is a challenge to throw ones intellectual and physical being at to reach it, and to bring it back to the fold.
Mars2020 is landing at Jezero Crater, close to a 3.8 billion year old rock unit that looks an amazing replica of a 3.5 billion year old rock unit from Western Australia. Why is that important?
Well, if we can learn how similar Earth and Mars may have been when these rocks were laid down, and whether life got started on Mars the way we see it did here on Earth at a similar time, in a similarly wet and energetically active period for both plans.
Tantalising also, is what we might learn when we get the rocks back on the upcoming Mars Sample Return mission in 2031. Here is an EOS article I just wrote for the public about our Mars2020 work: https://eos.org/features/mars-2020-team-using-australian-rocks-in-search-for-life-on-mars