If you remember, last time we took a look at 10 things you might want to know about our Moon. This time, I thought it would be a great idea to consider 10 facts you might find interesting about somewhere everyone wants to visit lately…Mars.
1. Why is Mars called the Red Planet?
That’s because of the iron oxide prevalent over the surface. Mars is a terrestrial planet, (mostly composed of rock). She is rich in silicate and oxygen based metals, and tholeiitic basalt. But most of the surface is covered in iron oxide dust. That’s rust!
So – you wouldn’t want to take a car there, eh?
2. Mars is the 4th planet out from the sun and is named after the Roman god of war.
(Just imagine how far a quarterback could throw a football)
3. Mars has two moons.
She may be smaller than Earth, but Mars has two satellites, Phobos and Deimos, which are thought to be captured asteroids. They might be tiny, but their names are grand, meaning panic/fear and terror/dread respectively.
Both moons are tidally locked to their parent planet, so they always show the same face toward Mars.
FACT: Since Phobus orbits Mars faster than the planet itself rotates, tidal forces are slowly but steadily decreasing its orbit. One day, it will break up and crash into the surface. Oooh.
4. Look at this photo.
Although Mars is tiny, she’s a giant in other ways.
Olympus Mons is the second highest known mountain in the Solar System.
It’s huge, (22km – 14miles high). And, its base circumference is so wide, that you would only just be able to fit the entire mountain within the area of France. YES! France. Because of the surface curvature of Mars, if you stood at the base of this mountain, you wouldn’t be able to see the top.
I know – give me another Oooooh
5. But thats not all, look at this..
This is the Vallas Marineris canyon.
Do you realize how big this thing is?
This canyon is over 4000km, (2,500 miles) long, 7km, (23,000ft deep) and 200km, (120 miles) wide. Even though it is on the second smallest planet in the Solar System, it is one of the largest canyons known to exist.
Our Grand Canyon is a mere 446km, (277 miles) long, 1,800meters, (6,000 feet), deep and 29km, (18 miles) wide. So, this is a monster in comparison.
I’m beginning to see why astronauts want to go there now
6. Does Mars have water?
Except for the very lowest elevations, liquid water cannot exist on the surface because of low atmospheric pressure. However, Mars has two polar ice caps which do appear to be made largely of water.
In fact, the southern polar icecap contains so much water, that if we were able to melt it, it would cover the entire planet to a depth of 11meters.
7. Mars is very windy.
Mars’s polar icecaps endure very long winters, and during that time, find themselves in permanent darkness. Because of this, 25 – 30% of the atmosphere is transformed from gas, into a liquid solid. (Deposition)
When the poles are again exposed to sunlight, the frozen CO2 Sublimes. (That’s where a solid substance transfers into a gas without going through a liquid stage). This action creates enormous winds that exceed 400kph.
Mars does have an atmosphere comprised of 96% carbon dioxide. The rest is made up of argon, nitrogen and trace elements of oxygen and water. It is though the atmosphere was quite different in the past. Why?
Well, about 4 billion years ago, Mars lost its magnetosphere, (The charged layer that protects planets from solar winds). So now, those winds act directly on the ionosphere, lowering its density and gradually stripping it away.
In this picture – taken from low orbit – you can see how tenuous the atmosphere is compared to the rich, thick clouds of Earth.
Out of all the planets in the solar system, Mars is most like the Earth when it comes to seasons because of a similar tilt of the two planets’ rotational axes. However, on Mars, the seasons are twice as long because she’s so far away.
Temperatures vary from -143 degrees C in winter, to 35 degrees C in summer because of a combination of factors. Thin atmosphere, low pressure, and the soils inability to retain heat.
And remember, because Mars is so far from the sun, she only receives 43% of the sunlight.
NOT a place to go on holiday then.
10. Exploration of Mars.
Since 2002, there have been 56 active missions on Mars. They are undertaken by orbiters, (Mars Oddyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter), and scientific rovers, (Opportunity and Curiosity)
And they give us real-life pictures like this:
These missions are helping scientists discover as much information as possible, to make the dream of a manned landing come true.
There you go. I hoped you enjoyed this brief look at Mars. Next time, we’ll look at 10 interesting things about a remarkable feature of our Solar System…
The Asteroid Belt.
See you then