10 Quick Facts about Mars

10 Quick Facts about Mars

A few things you (probably) didn’t know about the Red Planet

1. It’s been observed since ancient times.

The Moon and Mars. Photo Credit: Amirber via Wiki Commons

The Moon and Mars. Photo Credit: Amirber via Wiki Commons

Despite what its Roman name might suggest (it is named after the Roman god of war), the earliest known observations of the planet were made by Egyptians in the 2nd millennium BCE. Other civilizations that studied the planet included the Chinese, Babylonians, Indians, Greeks and Romans. For most of them, Mars was always a bad omen due to its reddish color.

2. It can get pretty cold.

Mars is further away from the Sun compared to Earth so it shouldn’t be surprising that it is colder there. Surface temperature can get as low as -195 degrees F (-125 degrees C). The average temperature of the atmosphere is -80 degrees F (-60 degrees C).

3. We were sure it had aliens.

Schiaparelli map of Mars

Schiaparelli map of Mars

There was a point in time when the idea of life on Mars became almost a certainty. This was during the late 19th – early 20th century. Telescopes became advanced enough to make out geographical details of the planet, but not advanced enough to see them in detail. In 1877, one astronomer named Giovanni Schiaparelli produced a map of Mars which contained canals. Actually, what he called “canali” meant channels, but was mistranslated to canals that were perceived to be clear signs of intelligent life.

4. A day lasts about as long as one on Earth.

We all know that an Earth day is 24 hours long (actually it’s 23 hours and 56 minutes). A day on Mars is just a little bit longer – 24 hours and 37 minutes. A year, however, is almost twice as long as one on Earth. It takes Mars 687 (Earth) days to orbit the sun.

5. It has two moons – Phobos and Deimos.

Phobos. Photo Credit: ESA

Phobos. Photo Credit: ESA

Even so, we shouldn’t be jealous. Both of them are tiny compared to our Moon, merely the size of asteroids. Moreover, Mars will eventually lose one of them. Phobos orbits at a low altitude and keeps descending at a rate of about 6 feet every 100 years. Eventually it will tear apart and form a ring around the planet.

6. The distance between Mars and Earth varies a lot.

This is because both planets orbit the Sun, but Earth has a much smaller orbit so they are not going to always be next to each other. In fact, when the planets are furthest apart because they are on opposite sides of the Sun, they are 250 million miles (400 million km) apart. At their closest, they are only 34 million miles (54 million km) apart.

7. It’s covered in iron dust.

Photo Credit: NASA

Photo Credit: NASA

That is where the red coloration reminiscent of rust comes from. Mars has a high content of iron-rich minerals and a layer of oxidized iron dust covers the surface of the planet.

8. It has a much smaller core.

Mars lost its magnetic field which offered protection from solar winds a lot faster than Earth will. This is mostly because its iron core which generated that field is smaller than Earth’s. In fact, with a radius just over 1,000 miles (1,700 km), it is almost exactly half that of our planet.

9. There are rocks from Mars on Earth.

Photo Credit: NASA

Photo Credit: NASA

Meteorites are always landing on Earth. Most of them are just tiny particles referred to as micrometeorites. However, every now and then, a bigger chunk makes it through our atmosphere, lands on Earth and is recovered. Right about now, we have about 220 pounds (100 kg) of rock that has been identified as coming from Mars. We did this by comparing the elemental composition of the meteorites with rocks we analyzed from Mars.

10. It is slower than Earth.

Some might not realize this, but Earth is travelling at very fast speeds around the Sun. 66,600 mph (108,000 kmh) is our orbiting speed. Mars is slightly slower than that – 54,000 mph (86,000 kmh).

 

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