With the launch of three missions to Mars this summer (including a new NASA rover, Perseverance, that will look for signs of life), our exploration of the Red Planet will soon leap to new heights. And there are good reasons we should be obsessed with it: Mars is the only extraterrestrial world besides the moon that human beings could conceivably reach within a generation. If we dream about visiting other worlds, Mars is realistic. It also makes sense from a scientific perspective. Suniti Karunatillake, a planetary scientist at Louisiana State University, argues that it is the only other rocky planet in the solar system that has evidence for most of the key geological processes we find on Earth today, such as volcanoes, sedimentary rock formations, and polar ice caps made of water. 

But it might be time to reassess whether our obsession is causing us to ignore the rest of our solar system. Enthusiasm over Mars tends to foster a feedback loop where more resources are devoted to exploring the planet, which unveils new findings that only add to the interest, causing the public and private sectors to devote more money to Mars exploration, and so forth. 

Mars is important to study, sure—but there are many compelling reasons to start ramping up exploration of other relatively nearby worlds. Here are five alternative places we should study in greater detail, from the nearest to farthest.

A composite image from data collected by NASA’s Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter.NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Venus

Venus is a cautionary tale about what could have been Earth’s fate had things gone just a bit differently. The planets are similar in size, mass, and geological composition. They seem to have similar geological histories, too, especially when it comes to volcanic activity (some data suggests Venus still has active volcanoes). Like Mars, Venus seems to have once grown and evolved on a path similar to our own.

Today, however, Venus has one of the densest atmospheres of all planets we’ve ever studied, composed of more than 96% carbon dioxide. Pressure at the surface is the equivalent of being 3,000 feet underwater on Earth. The temperature on the ground comes out to 464 °C, hotter than Mercury. Greenhouse gases have run amok and made it totally inhospitable—perhaps an extreme version of what Earth could look like in the very distant

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By: Neel Patel
Title: The 5 best places to explore in the solar system—besides Mars
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2020/08/17/1007011/the-5-best-places-explore-in-the-solar-system-besides-mars/
Published Date: Mon, 17 Aug 2020 09:00:00 +0000

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