Mars is the fourth planet 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”.
Mars is nicknamed the red planet because it is covered with rust-like dust. Even the atmosphere is a pinkish red, colored by tiny particles of dust thrown up from the surface.
There are many volcanoes on Mars. So many, that the planet is broken down into volcanic provinces for easier reference. Quite a few of them are very large because the planet has not had tectonic plate action for billions of years, so a single hotspot could flow unabated for millenia.
Mars is home to the tallest mountain in the solar system. Olympus Mons, a shield volcano, is 21 km (13 miles) high and 600km (372 miles)in diameter. Despite having formed over billions of years, evidence from volcanic lava flows is so recent many scientists believe it could still be active.
Mars has the largest dust storms in the solar system.They can last for months and cover the entire planet. The seasons are extreme because its elliptical (oval-shaped) orbital path around the Sun is more elongated than most other planets in the solar system.
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.
The Earth environment most closely resembling the current conditions of Mars is that of the Antarctic deserts. However, even the most hostile environments on Earth are far more suitable for life than the surface of Mars.
In 1976, Viking I photographed a mesa on Mars that had the appearance of a human face. Many individuals and organizations interested in extraterrestrial life argued that intelligent beings created the “Face.” Though the Mars Global Surveyor (1997-2006) revealed that the “Face” was likely an optical illusion, believers in the “Face” charged NASA with stripping data from the new image before it was released to the public.
There are signs of liquid water on Mars. For years Mars has been known to have water in the form of ice. The first signs of trickling water are dark stripes or stains on crater wall and cliffs seen in satellite images. Due to Mars’ atmosphere this water would have to be salty to prevent it from freezing or vaporising.
Mars has an enormous canyon named Valles Marineris (Mariner Valley) which is an astounding 4,000 kilometer (2,500 miles) long and four miles deep. As long as the continental United States, this gigantic canyon was likely formed by the tectonic “cracking” of Mars’ crust and is the longest known crevice in the solar system.
In winter, near the poles temperatures can get down to – 125 °C (- 195 °F). A summer day on Mars may get up to 20 °C (70 °F) near the equator, but at night the temperature can plummet to about – 73 °C (- 100 °F).
Mars is covered by craters from objects like asteroids and meteorites hitting the planet. Today, 43,000 such craters have been found and that only includes the large ones!
Only about 1/3 of spacecrafts sent to Mars have been successful, leading some scientists to wonder if there is a Martian “Bermuda triangle” or a “Great Galactic Ghoul” that likes to eat spacecraft.