July 20, 1999 Scientists from all over the world are in Pasadena this week to discuss their current knowledge of Mars and what questions they want to answer about the planet in the next decade. The fifth International Conference on Mars is being held July 19-23 at the California Institute of Technology. The first conference was held in 1973 when NASA's Mariner 9 spacecraft was returning data from the red planet. The second and third conferences convened in 1979 and 1981 to review data from the Viking mission. The fourth conference took place in 1989.
Current and Recent Missions
Scientists will be discussing data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, a spacecraft that has been in orbit around Mars since 1997. Global Surveyor began its primary mapping mission in March 1999 and will map the planet for a full Martian year -- 687 Earth days.
Recent analysis of data from the Mars Pathfinder lander and Sojourner rover will also be discussed during the conference.
Two more missions are on the way to Mars. The Mars Climate Orbiter will arrive on September 23, 1999 to look for clues to the history of climate change on Mars. The Mars Polar Lander will touch down near the south pole of Mars on December 3, 1999 to dig for traces of water beneath Mars' rusty surface.
All of these missions are managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology.
Monday: Newly released images of the surface taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera onboard the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft show a planet rich in detail with diverse structure ranging from frost- covered sand dunes to ancient craters eroded by high winds. New data about the topography, gravity and magnetic field provide insight into the interior and early history of Mars.
Tuesday: Scientists will be discussing how the Martian atmosphere changes with the seasons, how it is influenced by dust and how storms are born and move around the planet. A poster session will focus on future missions and new instrumentation being developed to study Mars.
Wednesday: Scientists will discuss the global history of water at the surface including canyons, channels, valleys, lakes and oceans. They'll also talk about the nature of the surface materials as seen by the new missions.
Thursday: How has Mars's climate evolved and what evidence exists of past climate change? Do the polar caps provide such evidence?
Friday: The next decade of Martian exploration will return samples to Earth of rocks and soil. Was there once life on Mars, if so is there a fossil record of it somewhere? What are bio- indicators? Will humans ever go to Mars?
Note to Reporters/Editors: For more information about the conference, please contact Robert Tindol, Caltech Media Relations, (626) 395-3631.
For more information about NASA's Mars Exploration Program, please contact Mary Hardin at JPL Media Relations, (818) 354- 0344.
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