10 Facts to Know about Planet MARS

Mars - The Red Planet

The Red Planet - actually chilly cold
The Red Planet - actually chilly cold | Source

1. The Red Planet is chilly cold

Mars is also called the Red Planet because it appears in the sky as an orange-red star. Yet though it looks hot, Mars is actually chilly cold, the average temperature being around -55 °C (-67 °F), with extreme lows of -143 °C (-225 °F) at the winter polar caps and highs of up to 35°C (95°F) in equatorial summer. The red color is actually due to the large amount of iron-rich dust that covers the Martian rocks and soil.

2. Mars got its name from the Roman god of war

Mars can (sometimes) be seen with the naked eye and has been observed since astronomy has existed. Ancient cultures like the Sumerians and the Indians saw in the red planet a portent of war and death. When the Romans came to dominate the world it was only natural they named Mars after their god of war.

Mount Olympus

Olympus Mons: dwarfs Mount Everest
Olympus Mons: dwarfs Mount Everest | Source

3. Mars has the tallest mountain in the solar system

Mount Everest might have the tallest peak on Earth, but its height pales in comparison to Mount Olympus on Mars, which at 22 km (13.6 mi) stands about two and a half times taller. Olympus Mons resembles the large shield volcanoes making up the Hawaiian Islands, but is more than twice the height of Mauna Kea, even when measured from its base on the ocean floor. The base area of Mount Olympus is so large it would almost cover France.

4. Mars is home to gigantic canyons

The Grand Canyon of Arizona is surely a spectacular sight, but it is miniature compared to Valles Marineris on Mars: 4.000 km (2,500 mi) long, 200 km (120 mi) wide and up to 7 km (23,000 ft) deep! It is easily recognizable on Mars images and got its name from the Mariner 9 orbiter which discovered it.

5. The Martian year lasts 687 days

If you’re short on time Mars is for you: the Martian year lasts a whopping 687 days. The Martian solar day (sol) on the other hand is only slightly longer than a day on planet Earth: 24 hours 39 minutes and 35 seconds.

6. Mars has seasons

Of all the planets in the solar system Mars is the most Earth-like. This is mainly due to the similar tilt of the planets’ rotational axis: 25.19 degrees for Mars, similar to the Earth’s tilt of 23.44 degrees. Yet winter and summer on Mars are almost twice as long because of its longer orbital period. Overall the temperatures vary widely due to the thin atmosphere and the larger eccentricity of the Martian orbit.

7. Mars has two moons

The two planets closest to the sun, Mercury and Venus, have no moon. The third planet, Earth, has, of course, one moon. The fourth, Mars, actually has two moons: Phobos and Deimos. Yet they are much smaller, even compared to their planets size, and less round than the Earth’s moon. Closest to Mars is Phobos with a diameter of about 22 km (14 mi) and an 11 hour orbit, followed by Deimos (12 km (7.5 mi)) with a 30 hour orbit. This as the latter is already located outside the synchronous orbit, where the orbital period would match the planet’s period of rotation.

Rover Curiosity in action

21st century explorer - already there!
21st century explorer - already there! | Source

8. Unmanned Mars landings

Despite the fact that man has never been close even to Mars’ orbit, there have been a number of successful unmanned Mars landings. The rover Sojouner of the Mars Pathfinder mission was the first in 1997, although contact was lost after just a couple of months. The Mars exploration rover Spirit was next landing successfully in 2004 and remaining operational until 2010. During the 6 year mission it drove 7,7 km (4.8 mi) on Marsian soil. Even more impressive is rover Opportunity which landed shortly afterwards in 2004 and is still operational. It has already completed over 40 km (25 mi) on the red planet. The most recent and advanced rover is Curiosity which landed in 2012 under the Mars Science Laboratory. It is, of course, still operational.

9. No green men

Popular culture once imagined little green men with antenna living on Mars. None of the camera-equipped rovers that landed so far managed to get a shot of any of these.

In truth, the environment of Mars is extremely hostile to life as we know it. Located at the very outer edge of the habitable zone and also because of its extremely thin atmosphere, water, the most basic element of life, cannot exist on Mars in its liquid form (except for very short time in very limited areas).

It though might be that some sort of microbial life could exist even in these hard conditions.

10. Man on Mars will be the next big step in space exploration

Over four decades have passed since man last walked on the moon (1972). Despite programs like the International Space Station (ISS), no really big advancement has been made since then. As the surface of Venus is totally unsuitable for a landing due to its high temperature and atmospheric pressure, a manned Mars landing will undoubtedly be the next huge step forward in space exploration. If you’re still in your fifties or younger you’ll likely be around when it happens. Stay tuned!

Exploring Mars

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