As the fourth planet from the sun, Mars has been one of the most captivating celestial bodies in our entire Solar System due to both its proximity and likeness to Earth. However, Mars is still a mystery to many scientists and numerous space probes have been launched into space by the United States, Russia, and Japan in order to ascertain more about the Earth’s elusive neighbor.
Mars, The Red Planet
Because Mars, like Venus, is bright and can be spotted in the night sky with the naked eye, the actual person who discovered the planet is unknown. Mars was named after the Roman God of War, possibly because its red hue is reminiscent of blood. Its red soil is composed of iron oxide, or more commonly known as rust, which is why Mars has been dubbed appropriately as The Red Planet.’
Mars is home of the Solar System’s most considerable landmarks as well. The Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in the Solar System, rising to an astounding 24 km (78,000 ft.) above the surrounding of the plain, while its base is more than 500 km in diameter and is rimmed by a cliff 6 km (20,000 ft.) high. Compared to Mount Everest, The Olympus Mons is three times its height and is as wide as the state of New Mexico. Valles Marineris is a system of canyons 4,000 km long and from 2 to 7 km deep. This cavernous gorge, which is approximately as long as the United States is wide, is a result of volcanic eruptions, which tore up the land.
Despite, these interesting attractions, Mars is definitely not a place you would want to go on a vacation to due to its harsh atmosphere. Because of its dry and dusty surface, sandstorms are something that are often seen in the weather forecast. These sandstorms can be so severe, that they even envelope the entire planet at times. These dust storms are more likely to occur when Mars is closer to the sun in its orbit. The climate on the southern hemisphere of Mars is also more extreme than that of the northern hemisphere. Although the only water that appears to be on the planet is frozen at the north and south poles, scientists have recently discovered that under Mars’ surface there is enough water to fill Lake Michigan twice. There are also signs of erosion in many places on Mars, including large floods and small river systems, it has become apparent that Mars’ acrid land was once filled with some sort of fluid.
Earth and Mars- Twins or Distant Relatives?
Because Mars is the most similar planet to Earth in our Solar System, it has given scientists the aspiration to colonize and terraform the planet in the future, giving humanity a back up home. However, there are still a significant number of differences between Earth and Mars, which makes us realize that this planet really is Home Sweet Home.’
Mars has been considered a dead’ planet due to its old and cratered surface. In contrast to the Earth, Mars has much more craters, as Earth has relatively new surfaces formed by geological activity. However, scientists have hypothesized that early in its history, Mars appeared much more like Earth, having water flowing and even a blue atmosphere. However, it is unlikely that any plant life was formed similar to Earth’s. However, there is a difference between Mars’ atmosphere and the Earth’s. Mars’ atmosphere is comprised of 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, 1.5% argon, trace amounts of water, and absolutely no oxygen, while Earth’s has 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon, and 0.03% carbon dioxide. However, Mars still has the essential elements that are necessary for life here on Earth and with terraforming the planet, scientists hope to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
As Mars’ atmosphere is almost entirely composed of carbon dioxide, Mars utilizes this element to form carbonate rocks, similar to what Earth does. However, Mars lacks the plate tectonics that Earth has and is unable to recycle any of this carbon dioxide back into its atmosphere in order to sustain a significant greenhouse effect. As a result, Mars is significantly colder than Earth would be if it were at the same distance from the Sun. Typically, Mars’ temperature is -87 degrees F while Earth’s is 57 degrees F. Despite this, Mars has been found to have seasons similar to Earth’s, due to the similar tilt around its axis. But because Mars is further away from the Sun, the length of its seasons is twice what it is on Earth.
Mars is also half the size of Earth and weighs only one tenth of our planet. However, despite the fact that it is smaller, its surface area is still about the same as the land surface area of Earth, as the majority of our planet is covered in water. Mars is approximately 230 million kilometers away from the Sun, and it takes 687 earth days for Mars to revolve around the sun. However, Mars’ day is very close in time to Earth’s, lasting 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35.244 seconds.
And unlike Earth, which has one Moon, Mars has two. Phobos, meaning fear, and Deimos, meaning panic, are named after the two characters in Greek mythology who accompanied their father, Mars, into battle. The two moons have diverse motions as well, as Phobos takes 11 hours to rise and set, while Deimos takes 2.7 days to rise in the east and set in the west, reappearing in another 2.7 days. Phobos is also gradually drawing closer to Mars, and it has been predicted that it will either crash into the planet’s surface or break up and form a ring around the planet.
Life on Mars?
For centuries, humans have contemplated the prospect of discovering life on other planets. After all, in this vast universe, it seems unlikely that Earth is the only planet that hosts life. Although it is possible that a planet in some distant galaxy is inhabited by intelligent life forms, humans have shown the most fascination with Mars.
Mars has been by far the most popular subject in science fiction films and literature regarding the possibility of life on other planets. In novels such as War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Martians are often depicted as being hostile, with motives of invading and conquering Earth. In fact when War of the Worlds was broadcast over the radio in 1938, it caused an uproar among its listeners because so many of them believed it to be true!
Our fear of Martians can possibly be derived from when Christian Huygens spotted a strange feature on the planet’s surface, which would later be discovered as the Syrtis Major, in 1659. In 1877, Giovanni Schiparelli discovered what appeared to be several lines crossing one another, which he claimed to be water canals carved by intelligent beings. And at the beginning of the 20th century, a prize was offered to the first person to come in contact with an extraterrestrial. However, this being could not have originated from Mars, because they felt that would make the competition too easy.
Although Mars is the only planet in our solar system that scientist believe to be the most likely to contain or have contained life, it would definitely not be in the form of little green aliens, like the ones depicted by the media. On the contrary, if life did occur on Mars, it was most likely in the form of primitive, microscopic bacteria as water didn’t exist on the surface of Mars for a long enough time in order for more complex life forms to develop. In fact, high resolution scanning of Martian meteorites show what appears to be fossil remnants of bacteria. This may seem insignificant to some, however, the discovery of even the most basic organism on another planet aside from our own is something that many scientists would find thrilling.
The Future of Mars
As more space probes are being sent out to space to examine the planet, the space program eventually hopes to do a manned mission to the planet to explore the planet’s environment first hand. However, there is no telling when this mission will take place. And although the prospects of colonizing and terraforming Mars seems to be start out of a science fiction novel, it may become a reality in the not so far future when our planet becomes overpopulated. But for now, we can simply sit back and watch this mysterious planet from afar.
Ten Facts About Mars: http://members.aol.com/_ht_a/bobalien99/marsten.htm
Exploring Mars: Basic Mars Facts: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/expmars/basicfacts.html
Interesting Facts about Mars (Planet Mars Facts): http://www.newsdial.com/outerspace/facts-about-mars.html
Facts About Planet Mars: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/facts-about-planet-mars.html
MARS: Life on Mars?: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/life/
Discovery of Mars: http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/mars/discovery.html