Top 10 AMAZING FACTS ABOUT MARS
We are so close to home on our journey through the solar system, but there’s just one last stop to make before flying to Mother Earth – and that’s Mars. This red beauty sits 4th closest to the sun and brings with it so many interesting facts… but we only have room for ten, so sit back, and be sure to check your oxygen levels as we visit the planet of Mars.
Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris
Along with spiders, strange weather, and a heaping of dust, Mars is also home to the largest volcano and one of the largest canyons in the solar system. Olympus Mons puts to shame even our highest pique, Mount Everest; beating its elevation by three times. Theories state that the giant volcano was able to form on Mars due to lower surface gravity and higher eruption rates, two factors that would aid in creating the oversized ticking time bomb. Valles Marineris may not have the explosive power that Olympus Mons does, but its 2,500 mile or 4,000 kilometer length puts to shame the Grand Canyon, which comes in at 277 miles or 446 kilometers long, while comparing depths, Valles Marineris can be 6 times deeper than the grand canyon in certain parts. Scientists today believe that Valles Marineris was created during the formation of the Tharsis region, which is home to volcanoes like Olympus Mons.
Spiders From Mars
It’s a great concept for a terrible SyFy movie and was an even better name for David Bowie’s 5th studio album, but as of early 2016, Spiders from Mars is a real interest to the people of NASA. Alright, so we’re not really talking about 8-legged creepy crawlies, but rather a series of formations on the red planet that NASA personnel have dubbed spiders. The formations are troughs created every spring as the terrain erodes during the change of the ice cap from ice to vapor. The term “spider’ stems from the shape of the trough, which is created as gas flows beneath the ice to find an opening.
Due to its red color, we often think of Mars as this red hot ball, but it is so far from that. In fact, Mars is home to two permanent ice caps. The north and south polar caps differ slightly from Earth’s own caps in that they are partially comprised of ice formed by carbon dioxide, otherwise known as dry ice, which would make sense considering Mars' atmosphere is 95.32% Carbon dioxide. Mars’ North polar cap is made mostly of ice formed by water, with a thin layer of dry ice that dissipates and reappears seasonally. The smaller, South cap differs from its northerly counterpart in that it’s not as flat and contains large pits and troughs that have appeared due to erosion.
Quite the Dusty Planet
On top of unusual weather phenomenon, Mars is also quite the dust ball. Hollywood tends to depict the surface of Mars as being an expansive desert with large dust storms, but that’s not just for production value. It’s believed that a combination of volcanic eruptions, landslides, wind abrasion, impacts, and the surface’s overall dryness have attributed to the high level of dust. With such high levels of dust, it’s not uncommon for solar heating to warm the atmosphere, especially within the Hellas Basin, where temperatures are slightly warmer, which kick off the beginnings of a rather nasty storm. Within hours, a storm can form and within days, it can be a massive, planet-spanning cell that leaves the air fogged with dust residue for weeks after.
Climate and a Most Unusual Winter
The similar rotation to Earth also means that Mars has four different seasons, though the orbital path is more oval than round, meaning that the lengths of these seasons are quite different. When put side-by-side with the other 8 planets, Mars has a rather strange weather pattern seen nowhere else – Martian snow - as water-ice snow has also been known to fall upon Mars’ surface. In relation to weather that we’re used to, Mars is quite colder than our home planet, with temperatures reaching an average of -80° F or -62° C, but can fluctuate between a bone-chilling -195° F or -125° C, to a very comfortable 70° F or 20° C towards the equator during the day. Depending on proximity to the sun, both the southern and northern hemispheres are subject to very short summers or winters.
A Martian Day
Traveling throughout the solar system, you may have started to notice this trend: planets all have unique daily cycles. Mars is no different, but it actually has a daily cycle quite similar to Earth’s. One solar day on Mars is equaled to just under 24 hours and 40 minutes on Earth, but when we extend our timeframe, we find that a Martian year is around 686 Earth days long. Both Earth and Mars share a similar axial tilt and rotation period, which accounts for the small 39-minute difference. One Martian solar day is known as a “sol,” and this is how landing missions designate each day spent on the derelict planet.
The 2 Moons: Phobos and Deimos
Pulling from popular mythology, Phobos and Deimos were the sons of the Greek God of War, Ares. The moons were discovered 6 days apart in August of 1877 by astronomer Asaph Hall, who was also responsible for determining the mass of the red planet. In terms of size, the two moons are considerably small, with Phobos coming in at 13 miles or 22 kilometers across and Deimos at 7 miles or 12 kilometers across. Relative to Earth’s moon, Mars' moons are about 1/200th the size of ours; however, Deimos is 20 times closer to Mars than our Moon is to earth, orbiting at a close 12,470 miles or 20,069 kilometers away.
Naming the Red Planet
Being so bright and rather quite noticeable, there’s really no one person or civilization honored with being the first to see it. There are, however, those that first recorded sighting of the red planet, and high on that list were the ancient Egyptians, who dubbed the planet “Her Desher”, or “the red one”. Though we know it more commonly by the same name as the Roman God of War, Mars has several different monikers. Like the Romans, Greece associated the red planet with their God of War, Ares, while East Asian cultures consider it the “fire star.” Mars was first observed via telescope sometime in 1609 or 1610 by none other than Galileo Galilei.
A Distinguished Color
The surface of the Martian planet is a rather distinguished reddish color, quite similar to the color of rust; and the reason may actually be quite similar to why rust looks as it does. The largest factor in behind Mars’ red hue is the high levels of iron oxide found in its surface material. What still perplexes us is how so much of the iron became oxidized in an atmosphere comprised of only .146% oxygen. Scientists point to several theories, including rainstorms in Mars’ younger years, a billion years of sunlight breaking down carbon dioxide into oxidants, or heavy dust storms breaking down quartz crystals to expose oxygen-rich surfaces.
Distance from the Sun
Though Mars is only the fourth planet from the sun, it still sits at a rather distant average of 141 million miles or 227 million kilometers from the Sun. In relation to our positioning, Mars is approximately 49 million miles or 78 million kilometers further than we are. Of course, all of this is not constant, considering Mars’ orbital pattern, which is more elliptical in shape, one of the more unique orbits in our solar system. At its furthest point from the sun, or at its aphelion, the red planet is approximately 154 million miles or 249 million kilometers away from the sun, while during perihelion, or closest point, Mars will be 128 million miles or 206 million kilometers away.