138. MARS FACTS
MARS IS THE FOURTH PLANET FROM THE SUN AND LAST OF THE TERRESTRIAL PLANETS. LIKE THE REST OF THE PLANETS IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM (EXCEPT EARTH), MARS IS NAMED AFTER A MYTHOLOGICAL FIGURE – THE ROMAN GOD OF WAR. IN ADDITION TO ITS OFFICIAL NAME, MARS IS SOMETIMES CALLED THE RED PLANET BECAUSE OF THE BROWNISH-RED COLOR OF ITS SURFACE. MARS IS THE SECOND SMALLEST PLANET IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM BEHIND MERCURY.
SIZE OF MARS COMPARED TO THE EARTH
FACTS ABOUT MARS
- Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and last of the terrestrial planets and is around 227,940,000 km from
- the Sun.
- The planet is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. It was known to the ancient Greeks as Ares, their god of war. This is thought to be because of the blood-red color of the planet which was also used by other ancient cultures. Chinese astronomers call Mars the “fire star” while ancient Egyptian priests called it “Her Desher” meaning “the red one”.
- The landmass of Mars and Earth is very similar.Despite Mars being just 15% the volume and 10% the mass of Earth, it actually has a similar landmass because water covers about 70% of Earth’s surface. The surface gravity of Mars is about 37% the gravity found on Earth. This means that on Mars you could in theory jump 3x higher than you could on Earth.
- Only 16 of the 39 Mars missions have been successful.Beginning with the USSR’s Marsnik 1 which was launched in 1960, 39 orbiters, landers and rovers have been to Mars but only 16 of those missions were a success. In 2016, Europe’s Exobiology on Mars program will search the planet for signs of Martian life as well as study the surface and terrain of the planet and map potential environmental hazards to future manned missions to Mars.
- Pieces of Mars have been found on Earth. It is believed that trace amounts of the Martian atmosphere were within meteorites that the planet ejected. These meteorites then orbited the solar system for millions of years amongst the other objects and solar debris before eventually entering the Earth’s atmosphere and crashing to the ground. The study of this material has allowed scientists to discover more about Mars before launching space missions.
- Mars was once believed to be home to intelligent life. This came from the discovery of lines or grooves in the surface called canali by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. He believed that these were not naturally occurring and were proof of intelligent life. However, these were later shown to be an optical illusion.
- The tallest mountain known in the solar system is on Mars. Olympus Mons is a 21 km high and 600 km diameter shield volcano that was formed billions of years ago. Scientists have found a lot of recent evidence of volcanic lava which suggests Olympus Mons may still be active. It is the second highest mountain in the entire solar system, topped only by the Rheasilvia central peak on the asteroid Vesta, which is 22 km high.
- Mars experiences huge dust storms – the largest in our solar system. This is due to the elliptical shape of the planet’s orbit path around the Sun. The orbit path is more elongated than many of the other planets and this oval shaped orbit results in fierce dust storms that cover the entire planet and can last for many months.
- The Sun looks about half its size half it does from Earth when seen from Mars. When Mars is closest to the Sun in its orbit the southern hemisphere points toward the Sun and this causes a very short but fiercely hot summer. In the north it experiences a brief but cold winter. When the planet is farthest from the Sun, Mars experiences a long and mild summer because the northern hemisphere points toward the Sun. This is compared with a cold and lengthy winter in the south.
- With the exception of Earth, Mars is the most hospitable to life – a number of space missions are planning for the next decade the further increase our understanding of Mars and when it has the potential for extraterrestrial life, as well as whether it may be a viable planet for a colony.
- Martians, also known as extraterrestrials from Mars, are a common character in science fiction books and movies. This makes Mars one of the most popular and talked about planets in the solar system.
- It takes Mars 687 Earth days to orbit the Sun with its orbit radius of 227,840,000 km.
- Mars is the only other planet besides Earth that has polar ice caps. The northern cap is called the Planum Boreum, with Planum Australe in the south. Water ice has also been found under the Martian ice caps.
- Mars has seasons like Earth, but they last twice as long. This is because Mars is tilted on its axis by about 25.19 degrees, which is similar to the axial tilt of the Earth (22.5 degrees).
- The orbit of Mars is the most eccentric of the eight planets. This means it is the least circular orbit path of the planets.
- The two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, were written about in the book ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by author Jonathan Swift – 151 years before they were discovered.
- Mars does not have a magnetic field – although there are some scientists that believe it did have a magnetic field somewhere around 4 billion years ago.