"The data will also provide a good map for future landing sites, when the time comes for a comprehensive landing program," Kluger adds. Such a program may not be too far off, either. Two promising probes are currently headed for Mars and scheduled to reach the planet later this year. One, the Mars Polar Lander, will penetrate the Martian soil, analyze it and relay the information to the second craft, the Mars Climate Orbiter, for transmission back to earth. Any Martians are on notice: The Earthlings are coming, the Earthlings are coming!
The latest data from NASAís Mars Global Surveyor has yielded a spectacular three-dimensional map of the planet that suggests it is aptly named after the Roman god of war. "Mars is a planet of extremes," says TIME senior science writer Jeffrey Kluger. The laser-produced map reveals in great detail a surface of towering highs and deep lows: monstrous mountains in the south, a smooth lowland in the north, and the highest volcano and one of the largest craters so far found in the solar system. The latest information will serve to better understand the red planetís geological development, says Kluger. "Already, it suggests there may be less water on Mars than was previously thought," he says.