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Mars: Everything you need to know about the Red Planet


Mars is one of the most explored bodies in our solar system.


Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, is famed for its rusty red appearance. The Red Planet is a cold, desert world with a very thin atmosphere. But the dusty, lifeless (as far as we know it) planet is far from dull.


Phenomenal dust storms can grow so large they engulf the entire planet, temperatures can get so cold that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere condenses directly into snow or frost, and marsquakes — a Mars version of an earthquake — regularly shake things up.


It, therefore, comes as no surprise that this little red rock continues to intrigue scientists and is one of the most explored bodies in the solar system.


Befitting the Red Planet's bloody color, the Romans named it after their god of war. In truth, the Romans copied the ancient Greeks, who also named the planet after their god of war, Ares.


Other civilizations also typically gave the planet names based on its color — for example, the Egyptians named it "Her Desher," meaning "the red one," while ancient Chinese astronomers dubbed it "the fire star."


The planet's cold, thin atmosphere means liquid water likely cannot exist on the Martian surface for any appreciable length of time. Features called recurring slope lineae may have spurts of briny water flowing on the surface, but this evidence is disputed; some scientists argue the hydrogen spotted from orbit in this region may instead indicate briny salts. This means that although this desert planet is just half the diameter of Earth, it has the same amount of dry land.


The Red Planet is home to both the highest mountain and the deepest, longest valley in the solar system. Olympus Mons is roughly 17 miles (27 kilometers) high, about three times as tall as Mount Everest, while the Valles Marineris system of valleys — named after the Mariner 9 probe that discovered it in 1971 — reaches as deep as 6 miles (10 km) and runs east-west for roughly 2,500 miles (4,000 km), about one-fifth of the distance around Mars and close to the width of Australia.

Scientists think the Valles Marineris formed mostly by rifting of the crust as it got stretched. Individual canyons within the system are as much as 60 miles (100 km) wide. The canyons merge in the central part of the Valles Marineris in a region as much as 370 miles (600 km) wide. Large channels emerging from the ends of some canyons and layered sediments within suggest that the canyons might once have been filled with liquid water.


Mars also has the largest volcanoes in the solar system, Olympus Mons being one of them. The massive volcano, which is about 370 miles (600 km) in diameter, is wide enough to cover the state of New Mexico. Olympus Mons is a shield volcano, with slopes that rise gradually like those of Hawaiian volcanoes, and was created by eruptions of lava that flowed for long distances before solidifying. Mars also has many other kinds of volcanic landforms, from small, steep-sided cones to enormous plains coated in hardened lava. Some minor eruptions might still occur on the planet today.


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