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Mars, schmars — let’s explore these other planets instead

Last month, China successfully landed and deployed the Zhurong rover on Mars, becoming the second country ever to set wheels on the surface of the red planet.

Last year the United States, the United Arab Emirates and China all launched missions to Mars, taking advantage of the relatively short journey time offered by the two planets’ unusually close proximity.

Why are planetary scientists so obsessed with Mars? Why spend so much time and money on this one planet when there are at least seven others in our solar system, more than 200 moons, countless asteroids, and much more besides?

Fortunately, we are going to other worlds, and there are lots of missions to very exciting places in our solar system — worlds bursting with exotic features such as ice volcanoes, rings of icy debris, and huge magnetic fields.

There are currently 26 active spacecraft dotted around our solar system. Some are orbiting other planets and moons, some have landed on the surfaces of other worlds, and some have performed fly-bys to beam back images. Only half of them are visiting Mars.

Included in those 26 spacecraft are long-term missions like Voyager 1 and 2 – which are still operational after over 40 years and have now left the Solar system and ventured into interstellar space. And it also includes some less famous, but no less weird and wonderful, spacecraft.

 

Credit: Olaf Frohn