Mars Facts

The fourth planet of the Solar system, Mars is a subject of many space explorations, movies and mythologies. It’s the second smallest planet after Mercury. It’s named after the Roman god of war. It is also popularly known as the ‘Red Planet’.

Mars Profile

Interesting Mars Facts

  • Mars is the fourth planet in the solar system.
  • It is named after the Roman god of war.
  • It is one of the four terrestrial planets along with Mercury, Venus, and Earth.
  • It is the second smallest planet in the solar system. The smallest being Mercury.
  • It is 228 million kilometers away from the sun.
  • It has two moons namely Phobos and Deimos.
  • It is also called the ‘red planet’ because of its reddish appearance. It appears red because of the presence of iron oxide on its surface.
  • It takes about 687 days to revolve around the sun.
  • Planet Mars has a diameter of nearly 9000 km. 
  • Scientists believe that Mars is the most habitable planet besides the Earth.
  • The mass of Mars is 6.42 x 1023 kg which is roughly 10% of that of the Earth.
  • The atmosphere of Mars is about 100 times thinner than that of the Earth.
  • Mars is the only planet in the solar system whose surface can be observed from the Earth clearly. 
  • Mars is considered to be a bad omen in many cultures.
  • The day Tuesday is named in honor of the planet Mars in many cultures. 
  • Mars is a hundred times less dense than the Earth.
  • Due to its large size, Jupiter has an influence on the orbit of Mars.  
  • Currently, two rovers called Opportunity and Curiosity are exploring the surface of the planet Mars. Both of them have been sent by NASA. 

History

Mars was formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The planet Mars has been named after the Roman god of war, most probably because of its reddish appearance. Mars is also the God of agriculture and hence this symbolism is preferred by those who wish to colonize Mars.

Humans have known about the planet Mars since pre-historic times and have studied it extensively. In 1610, Galileo Galilei became the first person to view Mars through a telescope. However, ancient Egyptian records from as long ago as 1534 BC are evidence that people had the knowledge of Mars as an object in the night sky for a very long time.

Mars was often considered a bad omen too. People believed that Mars foreshadowed bloodshed or a tragic future event. It is believed that the day Julius Caesar was murdered, the night sky was lit up with a blood-red hue by Mars.

The month of March is also named after the planet Mars. The day Tuesday is named in honor of Mars in many cultures like in French and in the Indian culture as well. In South Asian cultures, Mars is known as the ‘star on fire’ and in Hebrew, it is often called ‘the one that blushes’.

Appearance

Mars appears to be reddish-brown in color. This is because of the presence of excess iron oxide in its sands. Mars can sometimes also appear golden, greenish or brown in color according to the minerals on the surface.

In certain viewing positions, Mars can be twice as bright as Sirius. The presence of iron oxide in the sands of Mars gives it a dull red or a brownish appearance. However, about one-third surface of Mars is composed of some dark areas the reason for which is still uncertain.

Mars has a solid, hard and rocky surface where we can easily stand on. Mars is full of rocks, mountains, craters and canyons and the dark surfaces that are nothing but the shadows of these gigantic craters.

Mars is also famous for its enormous dust storms. They can cover continent-sized areas and can last for weeks or even months. These storms can also cover the entire planet and some huge storms can also be seen from the Earth through a telescope.

These storms can be as fast as 60 miles per hour. If we look through a telescope, we can actually see the craters of Mars quite distinctly. The massive canyons of the planet are also visible. Mar’s moons, Phobos and Deimos, are also visible from Earth if seen through a telescope.

Size

The mass of Mars is 6.42 x 1023 kg. It is the second smallest planet of our Solar system.

Surface

Mars is popularly known as the ‘Red Planet’ due to its reddish appearance. This reddish appearance is due to the presence of iron oxide which is abundant on the surface of the planet. As a terrestrial planet, the surface of Mars largely comprises of surface features like impact craters, valleys, mountains, deserts, and canyons. These canyons are much larger than the canyons on Earth.

The volcano Olympus Mons on Mars is the largest volcano in the solar system. It is also the second-largest mountain in the solar system. The mountain is 21 km in high and 600 km in diameter. It is almost three times larger than Mt. Everest, the largest mountain on Earth. It was formed billions of years ago and is still believed to be active. 40% of the planet is covered by the Borealis Basin.

Mars has a surface area of 144.8 million km².

Composition

Internally, Mars has a dense metallic core which mainly constitutes of iron and nickel. Its mantle is made of silicon. The crust of the planet mainly consists of elements like iron, oxygen, magnesium, potassium, calcium, aluminum, etc. The crust is thicker than that of the Earth, with a variable thickness of 50 km to 125 km.

Magnetic field & Gravitational Forces

There is no evidence of a magnetic field across the entire planet. However, according to certain observations, some parts of the crust of the planet have been magnetized in the past. The composition of the core of Mars is still unknown to human beings.

Mars has a tilt of 25.2° which is quite similar to that of the Earth.  Just like the Earth, Mars experiences seasons too. As the period of revolution of Mars is almost twice that of Earth, the seasons are longer as well.

Gravity exists on Mars. However, it is weak as compared to that of the Earth. It is approximately 38% of the gravity of Earth. Liquid water cannot exist on Mars due to the low atmospheric pressure.

Orbit & Rotation

The period of rotation of the planet is 24 hours and 37 minutes, quite similar to that of the Earth. Its period of revolution is approximately equal to 687 days on Earth. The diameter of Mars is approximately half of that of the Earth.

As compared to other planets, Mars’s orbit has an eccentricity of 0.0934 which is greater than all planets except Mercury.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere of Mars is mostly composed of carbon dioxide. The atmospheric pressure on the planet is 600 Pascal on an average. Other gases present in the atmosphere of Mars are nitrogen, argon, oxygen and carbon dioxide. However, these elements are present in very less quantity.

96% of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide. The atmosphere is also quite dusty which is responsible for giving the atmosphere a reddish color and hence the reddish appearance of the planet. The planet Mars has shown extensive changes in climate over the course of millions of years.

Water on Mars

It is believed that the atmosphere of Mars used to be thick enough to have water on its surface, but it is not the same case anymore. According to human research to date, water does not exist on Mars.

Even if it does, it is very scarce in quantity. About 3.5 million years ago, the atmosphere of Mars was thicker than it is now. This atmosphere enabled water to run on its surface. This is evident as the probes sent to Mars have reported river or ocean plains on the planet and have also found water-soaked rocks on its surface.

Moons

Mars has two moons namely Phobos and Deimos. They were named after the twin sons of Ares, the Greek God of war who was known as Mars to the Romans as their god of war. These moons are irregularly shaped and are smaller than the Earth’s moon.

Mar’s moons are not visible to the naked eye from the Earth. However, if one uses a telescope, they may be seen.  Phobos is around 22 km in diameter while Deimos is smaller in size and is around 12 km in diameter. Phobos is close to 9,400 km away from Mars while Deimos is farther away i.e. around 24,500 km away. Phobos and Deimos were discovered by Asaph Hall in 1877.

It is unknown how these moons originated. However, it is widely believed that these are asteroids captured from the asteroid belt. The orbits of both the moons are nearly circular. Phobos rises in the west and sets in the east. It moves quickly. On the other hand, Deimos rises in the East and sets in the west. However, it is very slow.

Jonathan Swift wrote about the two moons of Mars in his book ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ about 150 years before they were discovered.

Exploration

Spacecrafts have explored the planet Mars remotely. Space probes, however, have given significant information about the planet. These probes have mostly been sent to explore the surface of Mars and find out if life can exist on the planet.

Around 40 missions to Mars were planned out of which only 18 have been successful. The first attempt at exploring Mars was made by USSR. However, the first successful Mars mission was NASA’s Mariner 4 which was launched on 24th February 1969.

The first and the only country to have succeeded in a Mars mission in its first attempt was India. When it launched its Mars Orbital Mission which was also called ‘Mangalyaan‘ mission in 2013.

Mars Facts - Mangalyaan
Mangalyaan (MOM)

Some other successful missions to Mars were Mariner 6, Mariner 7, Mariner 9, Viking 1, Viking 2, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Odyssey, Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, etc. All the spacecrafts mentioned above were launched by NASA.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University

Every day, research teams are working to create more spacecraft to be sent to Mars. Sending humans to Mars is also being planned. However, it is only a proposal and it could take years or decades before for humans to step on Mars.

Potential for Life in Mars

It is believed by scientists that Mars could be the only other celestial planet in the solar system that could sustain life. It is not possible at this moment, but it may be in the future. A lot of studies are going on about whether life existed on Mars or if it could exist in the future.

The atmosphere of Mars is very thin to sustain life. However, many scientists believe that life may have existed on the planet a long time ago. For a long time, various spacecraft are being sent to Mars to investigate its surface and find out if it has water or life existing on it in any form.

There are speculations about whether or not humans could survive on Mars and/ or colonize it in the future. Future projects of sending humans to Mars are also being planned and proposed. 

Mars in Pop Culture

Mars has been known to human beings since ancient times. Naturally, man has always been curious about discovering the conditions on Mars. The month of March is named after the planet Mars.

Humans believe that Mars is the only planet other than the Earth where life may exist.  Even today, Mars has the possibility of being habitable. The planet has been a huge part of people’s imagination since ancient times.

Imaginary creatures of aliens on Mars which are often referred to as ‘Martians’ are famous all over the world. It is believed that Mars was once inhabited by Martians.

Mars has been the central theme of many books and films. The most iconic of these was The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. It is famous because it was announced on the radio in the mid-20th century. The narration on the radio and the style of writing in the novel was so convincing that the people actually thought that Earth was being invaded by the Martians. This caused great fear among people.

Some other notable works of art inspired by the planet Mars include John Carter of Mars, Marvin the Martian, Mars Attacks, The Martian, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray, etc. 

Timeline

  1. 5 billion BC: Mars is formed.
  2. 2nd millennium BC: Earliest records of Mars’ observation from ancient Egypt
  3. 1045 BC: Chinese records of the planet
  4. 1610: Mars is discovered by Galileo Galilei
  5. 1969: NASA’s Mariner 4 becomes the first successful Mars mission
  6. 1969-present: Humans continue to send spacecrafts and Mars rovers on the planet for deeper studies for a possible man-mission to Mars in the future

References

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