Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and is often called the ‘Red Planet’ because of the colour of its surface. Mars is the second smallest planet in the Solar System and the last of the terrestrial planets.
It is one of the planets we know most about as it is a neighbour to Earth. There have already been several successful space missions to explore Mars. Below are some interesting facts about Mars.
Interesting Facts about Mars
- Mars is 141 million miles (227,940,000) kilometres from the Sun. This makes it the fourth planet from the Sun behind Mercury, Venus and Earth.
- Mars has a red/brown colour. This is because of iron oxide which is a mineral found in the soil on the planet’s surface. This creates a powder of rust which floats in the atmosphere of Mars and covers much of the landscape.
- The planet was named Mars after the Roman god of war. This is thought to be because of the blood red colour of the planet. The Roman god Mars was supposedly pulled on a chariot by his two horses named Phobos and Deimos. These are the names of the two moons of Mars.
- The moons of Mars were written about in the book ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ by author Jonathan Swift. The interesting thing is that he wrote the book 151 years before the moons were even discovered!
- A year on Mars is 687 days. This is the time the planet takes to orbit the Sun.
- A day on Mars is 24 hours and 39 minutes long. Very close to the 24-hour length of a day on Earth.
- The tilt on the axis of Mars is 25 degrees. This means the planet experiences seasons much like we do on Earth as parts of the planet move closer to and further away from the Sun throughout its orbit.
- Seasons vary in length and are not even like on Earth. Spring is 7 months, and summer is 6 months, autumn is 5.4 months and Winter just over 4 months. This all adds up to a year on Mars.
- Summer is not like what you would expect to have on Earth! Temperatures generally reach a maximum of 20 degrees Celcius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) and drop down to around -73 degrees Celcius (-100 degrees Fahrenheit) These can then drop as low as – 153 degrees Celcius (-243 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Winter at the poles. Mars has a very thin atmosphere like venus meaning it cannot hold onto its heat.
- Mars has the second least circular orbit of all the planets. Only Mercurys orbit is more eccentric. This means it does not go around the Sun in a perfect circle but instead makes more of an oval, moving further away from the Sun on one side of the orbit than the other.
- Mars does not have much of a magnetic field. Slight magnetic fields have been found in certain areas of Mars, but these have been very weak. Scientists believe that these are leftover from a time billions of years ago when Mars did have a magnetic field. The latest theory is that a huge asteroid destroyed the previous magnetic field but this has not been proven, and it is possible that is just withered away.
- Mars has polar ice caps. It is the only planet apart from Earth to have them. The north polar cap is called the Planum Boreum, and the South cap is called the Planum Australe.
- Mars has a very thin atmosphere. The atmosphere contains 95.9% carbon dioxide and 2.7% nitrogen with traces of a mixture of other gases. This is a similar atmosphere to the one found on Venus.
- Mars has 37% of the gravity on Earth. This means you could jump three times higher on Mars than you can on Earth!
- Mars has a similar amount of land to Earth. Even though Mars is much smaller than Earth, it has roughly the same amount of land. This is because of the large amounts of water on Earth.
- For much of the nineteenth-century people believed in Martians – Aliens who live on Mars. This was due to the work of an astronomer Giovani Schiaparelli who in 1877, saw what he thought were straight lines on the surface of Mars. He believed these to be the work of Martians. This and people’s imagination fuelled the idea of life on Mars. As technology developed and more powerful telescopes were available, the surface of Mars could be viewed more clearly, and the lines were discovered to be an optical illusion.
- There is no evidence that there has ever been life on Mars. However, apart from Earth, it is the planet with the best conditions to support life.
- Scientists believe there is potential for life under the surface of Mars. There are several space mission planned to investigate these theories.
- The tallest volcano in the entire Solar System is on Mars. This volcano is called Olympus Mons and is 13 miles (21 kilometres) high. The highest volcano on Earth is Hawaii’s Mauna Loa which is 6.3miles (10 kilometres) and less than half the size of Olympus Mons. The volume contained inside Olympus Mons is also roughly 100 times more than that inside Mauna Loa.
- Mars experiences some massive dust storms. These can cover the entire planet, and the dust can travel up to 66 miles per hour!
- There are currently two NASA rovers on Mars collecting data from the planet. These are called Curiosity and Opportunity, and they are constantly providing new information about Mars.
- There have been a total of 13 robot’s active on Mars. It is the only planet that is solely inhabited by robots!
- 39 different missions have been launched to Mars. Only 16 of these were successful and included rovers, landers and orbiters.