Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the last of the terrestrial planets. Mars is named after the Roman god of war, known to the ancient Greeks as Ares, ancient Chinese as fire star while ancient Egyptians names it “Her Desher” which roughly translates means “the red one”. The month of March also derives its name from Mars and it is often described as the “Red Planet” due to its reddish appearance. Mars is a small planet, second smallest after Mercury but has managed to capture two moons Phobos and Deimos which I will discuss in greater detail later! A Martian day takes just a longer than an Earth Day lasting about 24 and a half hours while the Martian year will take 687 Earth days. This means if I where a Martian id only be 17 years old! Gravity is a lot less on Mars too, Martian surface gravity is only 37% of the Earth’s meaning I would weigh about 4 and a half stone and could leap nearly three times higher than I could on earth!
Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere composed primarily of carbon dioxide (95%) with nitrogen (2.7%), and argon (1.6%), with traces of oxygen and water. Its surface is where the real interesting things happen! Mars is home to the tallest mountain known in our solar system. Olympus Mons is a 16 miles (25 km) high and 374 miles (624) wide, now dormant volcano located on the western hemisphere. To put this into perspective Olympus Mons is three times taller than Mount Everest and if places on earth would take up most of Germany. Valles Marineris at more than 2,500 miles (4,000 km) long, 120 miles (200) wide and up to 4 and a half (7 km) deep making it one of the larger canyons of the Solar System. If places on earth it would look like the grand canyon if it stretched from New York to San Francisco. Mars is the only other terrestrial planet in our solar system to have polar ice caps. The northern cap is called the Planum Boreum, with Planum Australe in the south. The Martian polar ice caps have two kinds of ice. firstly water ice, like the our own ice caps on Earth and dry ice of frozen carbon dioxide.
We have sent an army of robotic explorers to mars over the past 45 years but only 16 of the 39 missions have been success. Beginning with the USSR’s Marsnik 1 which was launched in 1960, 39 orbiters, landers and rovers have been to Mars. At the moment the two Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity are roaming about the surface sending back some amazing photos and looking for signs of ancient life. In 2016, Europe’s Exobiology on Mars program be launched to investigate Mars and any signs of current potential life. Consisting of two separate missions an orbiter and lander set for 2016 launch and and a European rover and a Russian surface platform launching in 2018. Below are a few links to the sites I gathered my information on but I would like to advise you to check out www.astronomycast.com and www.universetoday.com Photo Credit: Reto Stöckli, Nazmi El Saleous, and Marit Jentoft-Nilsen, NASA GSFC.