Evolving Perspectives on the Atmosphere and Climate of Mars
Dr. Richard Zurek, JPL
Abstract: The planet Mars has both fascinated and tantalized humankind since the invention of the telescope and now well into the age of exploration from space. The first of three waves of space missions to Mars were flyby spacecraft that returned images of a heavily cratered planet with a thin atmosphere, suggesting Mars was more like the Moon than an older Earth. However, Mariner 9, the first spacecraft to orbit another planet, found vast channel and valley networks carved into its surface, as well as towering volcanoes, suggesting that ancient Mars was once much more Earth-like. Subsequent missions have landed on the planet and new orbiters have probed the planet at ever increasing spatial resolution and spectral coverage. As a result of the latest round of space exploration, Mars is revealed to be a complex, diverse planet— one whose climate has changed dramatically over time from an ancient atmosphere where water was active on its surface to a drier, thinner atmosphere shaped by periodic ice ages, to the present atmosphere where dynamic change continues today.
Dr. Zurek is the Chief Scientist in the Mars Program Office, Project Scientist, MRO.
The Magnetic Mid-life Crisis of the Sun
Dr. Travis Metcalfe, Space Sciences Institute
After decades of effort, the solar activity cycle is exceptionally well characterized but it remains poorly understood. Pioneering work at the Mount Wilson Observatory demonstrated that other sun-like stars also show regular activity cycles, and suggested two possible relationships between the rotation rate and the length of the cycle. Neither of these relationships correctly describe the properties of the Sun, a peculiarity that demands explanation. Recent discoveries have started to shed light on this issue, suggesting that the Sun’s rotation rate and magnetic field are currently in a transitional phase that occurs in all middle-aged stars. We have recently identified the manifestation of this magnetic transition in the best available data on stellar cycles. The results suggest that the solar cycle may be growing longer on stellar evolutionary timescales, and that the cycle might disappear sometime in the next 0.8-2.4 Gyr. Future tests of this hypothesis will come from ground-based activity monitoring of Kepler targets that span the magnetic transition, and from asteroseismology with the TESS mission to determine precise masses and ages for bright stars with known cycles.