The planet Mars has fascinated the human race for thousands of years. In fact, the word “Mars” is the Roman name for the god of war! Mars is also called the “red planet”, because when the Romans named the planet it reminded them of blood! The light that the Earth recieves from Mars, is basically reflected sunlight! So the light from the sun hits Mars, bounces off the planet and reaches planet Earth!
That light has gone quite a long distance, about 141 million miles. The universal yardstick is how fast light travels. Light travels at 183,000 miles per second! That’s fast! When scientists communicate with spacecraft, the messages travel at light-speed. So if a person was on Mars and was talking on the phone to someone on Earth, it would take a few minutes for their words to reach from Mars to Earth, or the other way around!
Imagine being on Mars and coming across an extinct volcano. That’s right, there is an extinct volcano on Mars called Olympus Mons and it is over 15 miles high! That is a very, very big mountainous volcano, as Mt. Everest is one-third the height! Mars also has a very deep canyon called the “Valles Marineris” which is over four miles deep and about the distance from New York to Los Angeles!
How long does it take to get to Mars? With the current speed of spacecraft, it would take almost a year to get there. There are already a few robotic spacecraft orbiting the planet, and remember those two little rovers that are still on Mars? They are called Spirit and Opportunity, and they have been on the planet since 2003, and were only expected to last for 90 days! So they are both very hardy little machines, and have sent back to Earth an awful lot of scientific data that is helped scientists to understand Mars better.
Those rovers have sent back information such as the what the weather is like on Mars. Bring a heavy winter coat because the temperatures can drop to over 225 degrees below zero! But it’s possible that in the summertime on Mars, the weather can rise to close to 70 degrees F. But remember that a space suit is still needed to breathe, as there is very little oxygen in the atmosphere. Mars is more like a desert planet, as most of the water has evaporated due to the thin atmosphere. Since the Earth has a thicker atmosphere, it can retain more water than Mars. The water that Mars has is frozen into ice due to the cold temperature.
Within a few decades there will be a manned landing on Mars. Why go to Mars anyway? Because scientists are searching for life in the universe, and Mars is a good place to look. They believe that Mars might have life there, even primitive life like bacteria because it has been recently discovered that life can survive in extreme conditions. And Mars has extreme conditons for sure!