Despite being the subject of numerous research studies conducted over the years, the planet Mars still holds many mysteries. One such mystery is why it is now a barren wasteland when there is evidence that it could have had plenty of water on it at some point in the past. In order to figure out the answer to that question, scientists are now going to use the new James Webb Space Telescope to make observations.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to use the James Webb Space Telescope to study Mars and learn more about how it transitioned from a wet planet, just like Earth, to the dry and frigid desert that it is today. Depending on what they find with Webb, the scientists could determine certain things about the planet’s past as well as what it all means for human habitability of the planet in the future.
It’s a massive undertaking, to be sure, but NASA is prepared to do it. Mars will be studied as part of a project called Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO), which is led by Heidi Hammel, a planetary astronomer and the executive vice president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and organization based in Washington, D.C. GTO offers scientists who have worked with NASA to improve Webb throughout its development dedicated time. From May to September 2020, Webb will undergo Cycle 1 and will be locked onto Mars during its first year of operations.