Astronomy for Kids: Basic Facts About Mars
In 1938, the actor and writer Orson Welles created a panic with a radio play about beings from Mars invading the Earth. Many people thought the play was a real news program. Frightened people fled in their cars or locked themselves in their houses and many called the police. The play described the invaders like this:
The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips...
This event happened just a little over 70 years ago. Yet at that time many people clearly believed that intelligent life existed on Mars. They thought this because lines had been seen on the surface of Mars through telescopes. People thought they were canals built by martians. We now know that these lines are natural features and no life of any kind has been found on the planet. So, what is Mars actually like?
Facts About Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun. A year on Earth is 365 days. That's how long it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun. A year on Mars is a lot longer. It is 687 days. Mars is a lot smaller than Earth. It's only about half the size of our planet.
The planet has two moons called Phobos and Deimos. They aren't round like our moon. Many scientists think they are asteroids that got trapped in an orbit around Mars.
The Surface of Mars
The most noticeable thing about the martian surface is that it's covered in red dust. The soil contains large amounts of iron, which makes it look rusty in color. Rocks are scattered all over the ground. Mars is a windy and stormy planet. Dust storms can last for weeks. Like our moon, Mars is covered with craters made by meteorites hitting the ground.
There are channels on the surface of Mars. Scientists think there may have been rivers and oceans a long time ago. Rivers could have carved these channels.
Mars also has large extinct volcanoes. Extinct volcanoes no longer erupt. The largest volcano called Olympus Mons is 2 1/2 times bigger than Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth.
Earth's north and south poles are freezing areas covered with ice. This is true of Mars as well. Mars has ice caps at its poles. NASA has also found ice underneath the surface of Mars.
Humans Living on Mars
Some people think it may be possible for humans to live on Mars in the future. They would use a process called terraforming to change Mars into a planet that is more like Earth. Mars would have to be changed from a dry desert to a planet with oxygen, running water and plants. For this to happen, people would have to set up colonies living in special shelters while the changes are being made. If terraforming is possible, it would likely take thousands of years.