The planet Mars is the fourth farthest planet from the sun. Mars is very similar to our planet, but it also contains some different attributes that make it unique. In the past years, Mars has increasingly been in the limelight for astronomers as they continue to study the fascinating qualities of Mars, more specifically looking to see if life exists on the planet. Although Mars is very close to Earth, there is a great amount of unknown history from the planet. Mars was named by the Romans after their god of war, because the planet had a red, blood-like color.
From a viewers perspective, Mars appears as a rusty red color. This is because the planet has a rich surface of iron oxide. The iron oxide formed a long time ago when there was liquid water on Mars. The compound traveled around through clouds of dust, blanketing the planet in a red, powdery, material, and under the coating the land is brown. Mars is literally rusting. If you take a closer look through satellite photos, you will observe that not all of Mars is the same red color. There are parts of the planet where the color looks orange, brown, and even black, but majority of the surface area is a reddish color.
Also, the sky on Mars appears red and sunsets appear blue. This is because the sun absorbs the red light and then deflects it, resulting in seeing more blue photons. Earth was originally thought to be the only planet in our solar system with plates moving under the ground. Recently, scientists also discovered that Mars in fact might be in an early stage of plates tectonics. If this is proven true, the plates could help explain the miles of volcanoes and canyons. Also there would be massive movements of plates hitting together causing ‘Marsquakes’.
Mars is the second smallest planet in our solar system, right after Mercury. The red planet has a radius of 2,106 miles, as compared to Earth’s 3,959 mile radius. Mars is 53% of the size of Earth by size. Mars is significantly smaller than our planet not only by size, but also mass. The planet has a mass of 6. 4185 x 10?? kg, which is only 15% of Earth’s mass. As for surface area of the red planet, it covers 55. 91 million square miles opposed to our planet which covers 196. 94 million square miles. As you can see, Mars is a lot smaller than Earth in many ways.
Interestingly enough, Mars and Earth share similar land areas, because water on Earth accounts for majority of the total surface area of our planet. Also Mars’ gravity is weaker than Earth’s. Our planet’s gravity is estimated at 32. 09 feet/s? while our neighbor Mars’ gravity is 12. 18 feet/s?. The surface gravity on Mars is about 38% of our planet’s. So if a person were to weigh 100 pounds on Earth, they would only weigh 38 pounds on Mars. Mars shares even more similarities to our planet. For the planet to spin 360 degrees, it takes 24 hours and 40 minutes.
This Martian day is called a “Sol”. The Martian day is extremely close to an Earth day, theirs is only 40 minutes longer. For Mars to rotate around the sun, it takes about 687 Earth days. The red planet’s orbit around the sun is about 1. 88 times Earth’s. The orbit takes longer because Mars is farther from the sun than Earth is. It’s orbit is not a perfect circle either, some parts are much farther away from the sun than other parts. There is a 19% difference in the distance from the closest to farthest distance in it’s orbit.
On average Mars is 1. 2 Astronomical Units (AU) from the Sun, and Earth is 1 AU from the Sun. An AU is approximately 93 million miles, so Mars is almost 1. 5 the distance from Earth to the Sun. Also Mars and Earth both have similar qualities regarding how they are positioned on their axes. Mars is positioned 25 degrees on it’s axis, very close to Earth’s 23. 5 degrees. That being said, the degree means that Mars has seasons. Since it takes Mars almost twice the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun, that means that it’s seasons will be about twice as long as ours.
The degree at which Mars rotates on it’s axis at has changed throughout time. Scientists, unsure why this phenomenon is happening, believe that the tilt has decreased over time, which is a possible reasoning for the underground reservoirs of ice at lower latitudes. When the tilt was greater, the ice caps grew, and when the tilt flattened out, the ice got covered by dust. Mars’ atmosphere is one of the reasons that there has been no findings of liquid water on the planet. First, it is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s.
The thin atmosphere is to blame for the temperature on Mars. The average temperature is -80 degrees Fahrenheit, but can vary from -195 degrees around the poles in the winter, and 70 degrees near the equator during midday hours. Even though the atmosphere is thin, it is still thick enough for the planet to have clouds, wind, and weather. Wind causes major dust storms on the planet that can last weeks or months. Storms usually occur in the southern hemisphere in the planet, when it is closest to the sun.
Sometimes it even snows on Mars! Not the type of snow that we receive, Mars receives carbon snowflakes the size of red blood cells, and the poles of the planet are covered with carbon dioxide ice. The atmosphere is almost 95% carbon dioxide, 2. 7% nitrogen, 1. 6% argon, and small amounts of other elements. There are a few problems with the atmosphere on Mars, one including that doesn’t allow liquid water on the surface, which is one of the reasons that we have not found any sources of life on the planet so far.
Also the planet has high radiation levels which is dangerous if and when humans explore the planet. Mars has two moons: Phobos and Deimos. They were both discovered in 1877 by American astronomer Asaph Hall. The moons are thought to be captured asteroids because they have similar qualities as asteroids from the nearby asteroid belt. Phobos is gradually spinning inwards towards Mars, and astronomers expect within 50 million years that it will crash into the planet or break up and form a ring around the planet. Mars is well known for its unique geography.
The red planet is home to the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons (Latin for Mount Olympus), which rises 17 miles into the air, with a diameter of 370 miles. It may still be active, with a chance that it could erupt. There are many miles of flatlands that cover much of the northern hemisphere of Mars that were thought to used to be covered by water. Additionally there are thousands of miles of canyons that cover the surface of Mars. Astronomers are fascinated by Mars. There have been guesses that people will land on Mars within our lifetime.
Satellites and rovers have all been studying the planet closely and watching trends, gathering information, and taking photos of our red next door neighbor. The movie, “The Martian”, shows detailed interpretations what the planet looks like and the movie is about a NASA astronaut that lands on Mars, which gives viewers and the public good ideas of the reddish color landscape. In the upcoming years, even more unmanned missions are bound for Mars as scientists are optimistic that forms of life and water can be found there. Exploration of the planet is very tough though.
As of September 2014, only 18/40 of the planned missions to the planet have been successful, and missions to Mars come with a huge price tag. Also, pieces of Mars have fallen to our planet, holding information about its atmosphere and composition of the planet. Although we still don’t know everything about Mars, we do know that we are getting closer and closer to humans exploration on it everyday. Our red neighbor is home to many unanswered questions that still linger. Even though Mars isn’t habitable right now for humans, you never know when your next door neighbor will help you out!