We have lift-off!
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (GTO) has successfully launched from Kazakhstan on a seven-month journey to the red planet.
The GTO will search Mars’ atmosphere for low-level gases like methane that may indicate the presence of alien life.
The 2016 mission is the first stage of a billion-dollar joint mission between the European and Russian space agencies.
Experts say the probe has the potential to find “very strong evidence” of alien life when it arrives on Mars.
The heaviest spacecraft ever sent to Mars took off at around 8.45am GMT after a final systems check.
“It has to be accelerated at high velocity – we need a big rocket,” says Michael Khan from the European Space Agency. “It will reach Mars on the 19th of October this year – that’s a fact.”
People have been enthralled by Mars for centuries, long before the blockbuster book and movie The Martian.
What we know about Mars keeps evolving, thanks to remote sensing and unmanned missions like NASA's Curiosity rover. There's a lot we don't know, including whether the red planet ever harboured life, how its atmosphere got the way it is, and what happened to the oceans that apparently used to cover much of its surface.
Here are a few fast facts about Mars, based on the latest science:
- Mars is 49 million miles away from Earth, which means a manned mission there is expected to take about a year.
- One Martian year is 687 days.
- Temperatures there are known to dip as low as -175 C.
- Mars' gravity is 62 percent less than Earth's.
- Mars had water oceans as recently as 3.5 billion years ago.
- The red planet's atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide.
Learn more about our exploration of Mars here.