Facts About Planet Mars - The Red Planet

Mars - Facts about Mars

Mars is the second smallest planet in the solar system with a diameter under the width of Africa. In fact, its total surface area is similar to that of all Earth's continents combined. It is named after the Roman God of War. Behind its name, it is also known as the Red Planet due to its reddish hue in appearance. Several Mars missions have taken human technology to mars. The first truly successful Mars mission was Nasa's Mariner 4 flyby on July 1965. Out of 56 missions, only 26 were successful.

Facts about Mars

Planet Profile

Name Mars
Known Satellite 2
Distance from Sun (avg) 227.9 million km
Equatorial Radius 3,389.5 km
Polar Radius 3,376 km
Volume 1.63 × 1011 km3
Mass 46.39 × 1023 kg
Surface area 144.8 million km2
Gravity 3.711 m/s2
Max Temperature 35℃ or 96°F
Min Temperature −143 °C or -226°F
Length of day 24 hours 37 minute
Length of year 687 Earth days
Astronomical symbol

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Quick Facts About Mars

  1. In 1840, the German astronomer Johann Heinrich von Mädler produced the very first map of Mars from his ten years of observation.
  2. Mars' craters under 60 km in diameter are named after towns on Earth with a population under 100,000.
  3. Mars' craters larger than 60 km are named after scientists, writer and others who have contributed to the study, observation and exploration of Mars.
  4. Recent research shows that Mars is made up of 2 large tectonic plates.
  5. From Mars, the sun appears about the half size as it does on Earth.
  6. Because Mars had hardly any atmosphere, its sunsets appear blue rather than red and orange on Earth.
  7. On August 2003, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in almost 60,000 years.
  8. The next time Mars will make its closest approach to Earth on 28th August 2287.
  9. Only Earth and Mars is the only planet which has polar ice cap on their poles.
  10. If the southern ice cap melted, water would cover the planet's surface in an ocean around 11 metres deep.
  11. Curiosity played the happy birthday tune on its anniversary by vibrating soil particles itself all alone on Mars.
  12. Over 100,000 people applied to be part of the Mars One program which would involve a one-way trip to colonise the Red Planet in the coming years.

Detailed Facts about Mars

  • Mars was known by different names in different civilisations

Mars - Roman God of War
Mars - Roman God of War
© Flicker

Being so bright and slightly quite noticeable, there is no person or civilisation honoured with being the first to see it. The first record of human awareness of Mars dates back to 1534 BC when ancient Egyptian astronomers spotted it. Who dubbed the planet “Her Desher”, or “the red one”. Though, we know it more commonly by the same name as the Roman God of War.

Mars has several different monikers. Like the Romans, Greece associated the red planet with their God of War, Ares. While East Asian cultures consider it the “fire star.” Mars was first observed via telescope in 1610 by Galileo Galilei.
  • Mars has two potato-like small moons

Two moons of Mars - Deimos and Phobos
Two moons of Mars - Deimos and Phobos

Mars has two moons Phobos and Deimos. Pulling from popular mythology, Phobos and Deimos were the sons of Greek God of War - Ares. The moons were discovered in August of 1877 by astronomer Asaph Hall. Who was also responsible for determining the mass of the red planet.

The two moons look like a giant potato rather than spherical moons because their gravitational pull is not strong enough to bring them into a spherical shape. In terms of size, the two satellites are considerably small. The largest one is Phobos coming in at 14 miles or 25 kilometres across, and the smallest is Deimos at 7 miles or 12 kilometres across. Relative to Earth’s moon, Mars' moons are about 1/200th the size of ours.
  • There will be a ring in Mars' future

Mars will have rings in its future
Mars will have rings in its future
© Flicker

Like all the rocky planets, Mars is ringless but not for long. In about 30 to 50 millions year, Mars will have a ring system like Saturn. Those rings will come from Mars' largest moon Phobos. That orbits Mars at a distance of 6,000 km or 3,700 miles from Mars' surface. It is so close to the mars that it completes its orbit even before the mars rotates, which is in just 7 hrs 39 min.

Due to the tidal deceleration, Phobos is coming close to Mars at the rate of 1.8 cm per year. Eventually, it will reach the point at which the Martian gravity is stronger than the gravity holding it together. Since it is made up of weak material, so rather than crashing, it will break up and form a planetary ring.
  • The surface of Mars is rusted

Mars' red surface
Mars' red surface

The surface of the Martian planet is a rather distinguished reddish colour. That is quite similar to the colour of rust, and the reason may be quite the same as why rust looks as it does. The most significant factor behind Mars’ red hue is the high levels of iron oxide found in its surface material. What still perplexes astronomers is how so much of the iron became oxidised in an atmosphere comprised of only 0.146% oxygen.

Scientists point to several theories, including rainstorms in Mars’ younger years, a billion years of sunlight breaking down carbon dioxide into oxidants, or heavy dust storms breaking down quartz crystals to expose oxygen-rich surfaces.

  • Like Earth, Mars also has Polar ice caps

South and North polar ice caps of Mars
South and North polar ice caps of Mars

Due to its red colour, we often think of Mars as a red hot ball, but it is so far from that. In fact, Mars is home to two permanent ice caps. The north and south polar caps differ slightly from Earth’s caps. They are partially comprised of ice formed by carbon dioxide, otherwise known as dry ice. That makes sense considering Mars' atmosphere is 95.32% Carbon dioxide.

Mars' north polar cap is 1000 km wide and made mostly of ice formed by water, with a thin layer of dry ice that dissipates and reappears seasonally. The smaller, South cap has a diameter of 350km, and it differs from its northern counterpart. It is not as flat but contains large pits and troughs, that have appeared due to erosion.
  • Length of a day on Mars is slightly longer than a day on Earth

Earth(blue) and Mars(red) orbit
Earth(blue) and Mars(red) orbit

Travelling throughout the solar system, you may have started to notice this trend: Planets all have different daily cycles. Mars is no different, but it has a daily period quite similar to Earth’s. One solar day on Mars is equalled to just under 24 hours and 40 minutes on Earth. But when we extend our timeframe, we find that a Martian year is around 686 Earth days long.

Both Earth and Mars share a similar axial tilt and rotation period, which accounts for the small 39-minute difference. One Martian solar day is known as a “sol,”. This is how landing missions designate each day spent on the deserted planet.
  • We have found pieces of Martian rocks on Earth

NWA 7034 (Black Beuty)
NWA 7034 (Black Beuty)

Tons of Meteors rain down on the earth all the time. Most of the material burns up in the atmosphere, but some of them survive. More than 61,000 meteorites have been found on earth. Out of which 224 Meteorites were found to be from Mars. These meteorites are considered from Mars because their composition is similar to the Martian rocks.

One of the rocks is NWA (Northwest Africa) 7034 dubbed as "black beauty" found on January 3, 2013. It is appeared to be 4.4 billion years old and contains 10% more water than other Martian rocks. These rocks help us to find out what types of volcanic activity were occurring 200 million years ago on Mars.
  • Like Earth, Mars experiences four seasons

Sublimation of ice in martian spring season
Sublimation of ice in the martian spring season

Mars has a rather strange weather pattern seen nowhere else. The similar rotation and axial tilt like Earth also mean that Mars has four different seasons, Spring, summer, fall and winter. Though the orbital path is more oval than round, meaning that the lengths of these seasons are quite different. The most extended season is Spring, which remains as long as seven months. Duration of both fall and Summer seasons are about six months. While Winter only lasts for four months.

On average temperature remains -80°F or -62°C. In summer the temperature reaches up to 20℃ or 70°F, but in the night the temperature drastically falls to -73℃ or 100°F. Near poles, the temperature on winter day gets down to bone-chilling -195° F or -125° C.
  • Martian massive dust storm is not regional but global

Mars Before/after martian dust storm
Mars Before/after the martian dust storm

On top of the unusual weather phenomenon, Mars is an expansive desert with large dust storms. With such high levels of dust on Mars, it is not uncommon for solar heating to warm the atmosphere. Especially within the Hellas Basin, where temperatures are slightly warmer, which kick off the beginnings of a rather nasty storm.

Within hours, a dust storm on Mars can form with the speed of 61 km/h, and within days, it can be a massive as a planet-spanning cell. The Martian dust storm can reach 20 km to 80 km high in the sky and blocks up to 99% of sunlight. Since Mars is so dry, the dust can stay in the atmosphere for a long time.
  • Mars holds the record of the largest volcano in the entire solar system

Olympus Mons - largest volcano in the solar system
Olympus Mons

Mars is home to the largest volcano in the solar system - Olympus Mons. It is a shield volcano with a height of 26 km (85,000 ft) above plains. It puts to shame even our highest pique, Mount Everest, beating its elevation by three times. Scientists use it to think that it can be an active volcano rather than extinct. Theories state that the giant volcano was able to form on Mars due to lower surface gravity and higher eruption rates. Two factors that would aid in creating the oversized ticking time bomb.
  • Mars is also home to one of the largest canyons in the solar system

Valles Mariners - one of the largest canyon in the world
Valles Marineris
© Wikimedia

Valles Marineris may not have the explosive power that Olympus Mons does, but its 2,500 mile or 4,000-kilometre length puts to shame the Grand Canyon, which comes in at 277 miles or 446 kilometres long. While comparing depths, Valles Marineris can be six times deeper than the grand canyon in certain parts. Today scientists believe that it is a sizeable tectonic crack on the surface of Mars. It is a system of canyons created during the formation of the Tharsis region, which is home to volcanoes like Olympus Mons.
  • Billions of year ago Mars had water on its surface

Mars four billion years ago
Mars four billion years ago

Today Mars is like a barren desert, but in the past, things were different. Mars was once very wet. There is plenty of evidence for flowing water on the surface long ago, including dry river beds, dry lakes, sedimentary layers, and minerals and this requires water to form.

It is hypothesized that Billions of years ago, Mars was almost habitable and had a thicker atmosphere. But for some reason, its internal liquid core cooldown, and its magnetic field disappeared; This left its atmosphere vulnerable to the solar wind. Without the atmospheric pressure on top of that, the water gets evaporates into space and the barren land left behind.

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