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Dmitriy Titov, a scientist at the European Space Agency, delivers a fascinating account of the groundbreaking discovery of the Mars Express mission. Titov received his Ph.D. and then pushed his career forward as a senior researcher at the Space Research Institute (IKI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He then brought his talents to the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, a research institute in astronomy and astrophysics that is located in Göttingen, Germany. Titov is internationally known for his important work on the atmospheres of terrestrial planets.

Titov discusses the successful mission of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, of which he is very involved as project scientist. Decades of speculation about the existence of liquid water on the red planet were brought to a conclusion as the project discovered a 12-mile wide lake beneath an ice cap on Mars’s southern pole. While the Mars Express faced many difficult analytical issues throughout its mission, the discovery was considered a breakthrough in planetary science and our general understanding of the evolution of the planet and its potential for habitability.

Titov discusses the process of using cratering records in an expansive geological survey of the red planet that provides information on the ages of different geological units, and with the use of spectrometers, water can be seen in Mars’s atmosphere. Additionally, scientists can use particle plasma instruments to note water escaping the planet, which changes its atmospheric condition. But the discovery of this liquid water trapped beneath a Mars ice cap solidifies theories that many scientists have posed.

The planetary scientist explains that while science has not yet discovered why the atmosphere changed so dramatically over time on Mars, theories abound that propose it may be due to its smaller size and thus inability to maintain consistency of atmosphere effectively. By measuring the escape of the atmosphere on the planet, Titov and the scientific community hope to understand the reasons for the change and how it came to happen.

He discusses the use of subsurface penetrating radar that can send electromagnetic pulses to the surface of the planet, which can then allow researchers to listen to the echo as it penetrates several kilometers below the surface. And through analyzation of the time delays on the echo, researchers can get an estimation of the relative thickness of layers to better understand the composition, etc. Bright reflections in the radar signals indicated to scientists that the presence of water did exist, for as Titov explains, only liquid water could produce this in the signals.

The science expert details how a comparative analysis of gravity, magnetic fields, and various other factors on the different terrestrial planets can provide information about the complicated behavior of these complex systems. Titov provides analysis on some of the theories as to why liquid water exists below the ice cap surface. He explains that as water on Mars moves directly from the solid state to the gaseous state, bypassing the liquid state altogether, that the subsurface water indicates that the pressure is perhaps higher subsurface than on the surface. Additionally, the chemical content of the water probably differs as well, and all those factors help scientists to understand the possibilities of life below Mars’s surface. As the research expands, and new information comes forward, the fifteen-year-old Mars Express mission continues to bring new discoveries.

Links:
– Mars Express – https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Mars_Express
– Discovery of water on Mars – http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Mars_Express/Mars_Express_detects_liquid_water_hidden_under_planet_s_south_pole
– Image of dust storms on Mars – https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Highlights/A_storm_rolls_in
– Image “detecting buried water with radar” – http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2018/07/Detecting_buried_water_with_radar

Here you can find an image of Dmitri, if needed – http://sci.esa.int/solar-system/48602-esa-scientists-honoured-by-the-egu-in-vienna/

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