Mars: The Red Planet

Mars:  The Red Planet

Mars is known as the red planet and is the fourth planet from the sun in our solar system. It is also the second smallest planet and named after the Roman God of war. Mars is also home to the tallest or second tallest volcano, depending on how the measurement is taken. This extinct volcano is called Olympus Mons and sits at an elevation of twenty-four kilometers above sea level. It is approximately three times higher than Mount Everest. Mars also has a very deep canyon named Valles Marineris. It is 4000 kilometers long and has a depth of seven kilometers. The red planet has always been a fascination to astronomers and fiction writers alike. It is very visible with telescopes available for the public. Mars becomes very visible every 15-17 years as it nears planet Earth. The last optimal viewing was July of 2018.

Jezero Crater: Landing site for the 2020 Rover
Image by NASA

Because of its distance from the sun, the Martian year is nearly twice as long as Earth’s.  It has a temperature of range from -143° Celsius at the northern and southern poles to 35° Celsius at the equator.  This is much colder than the poles of the Earth which average -40° Celcius in the north and -76° Celcius in the south.

Asteroid Impact Crater between July and September 2018
Image by NASA

Life on Mars does not exist as far as we can tell. Although the soil contains necessary nutrients for plant growth (magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine), it also contains high levels of salt perchlorate which makes the soil toxic.  The soil is a little basic with a pH of 7.7. The planet surface also receives considerably less sunlight than Earth. In June of 2018, the Mars rover Curiosity discovered organic compounds in rocks three billion years old. This suggests there may have been some sort of life on Mars at some time.

Many crafts designed to travel to Mars are employed by The United States, Europe, India and the Soviet Union.  Six orbital crafts gather data from orbit by 2018 and two are on the planet’s surface.  Our best photographs and scientific data come from NASA’s InSight landing in November of 2018.

[SciShow News]. (2018, November 30). InSight is on Marso [Video File]. Retrieved from

The HiWish program was created by NASA in 2010. Through this program, anyone can suggest a location of the Martian surface to be photographed. In six years, over 4200 images have been released to the public. Sign up here to make a suggestion.

[NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory]. (2018, September 6). NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover on Vera Rubin Ridge (360 View) [Video File]. Retrieved from URL

Mars has been a source of fiction and speculation for centuries.  In ancient times, it represented the foretelling of war and plague by the Sumerians.  The Mesopotamians believed it to be a star of judgment based on the fate of the dead (Zeilik, Michael (2002). Astronomy: the Evolving Universe). Eastern Asian cultures knew it as the Fire Star. In modern times, it has been a great source of inspiration for fictional writings from H.G. Wells to Edgar Rice Burroughs. Whatever your beliefs may be, it is definitely the fourth rock from the sun, it is called the red planet and it is a focus of exploration. I have included some links if you would like to read a little further.

[Science Channel]. (2014, December 8). Driving on the Surface of Mars [Video File].
Retrieved from URL

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