Mars: everything you wanted to know about the red planet

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Mars is one of the most interesting and mysterious planets in the solar system. It attracts the attention of scientists, writers, artists and ordinary people with its characteristics and the possibility of colonization.

In this article we will tell you everything about the exploration of Mars: from its position in the solar system to geology and atmosphere. Learn about the physical characteristics, orbit, climate, surface and moons of the red planet.

 

Position of the planet Mars in the solar system

What does Mars look like?

Mars is a terrestrial planet, that is, it has a solid surface and a thin atmosphere. It has two small moons, Phobos and Deimos, which are similar to asteroids. Mars has a bright orange or reddish color, which is due to the high content of iron oxide (rust) in its soil, which is why it is called the “red planet”. The surface of Mars contains many craters, dunes, hills, valleys, volcanoes and canyons.

 

Where is Mars?

Mars is located in the Solar System, which consists of eight planets, their moons, asteroids, comets and other celestial bodies that orbit the Sun star. Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in terms of distance and the second planet from Earth in terms of distance.

Mars moves in an elliptical orbit around the Sun, which has a large variation in the distance between perihelion (the closest point to the Sun) and aphelion (the farthest point from the Sun).

 

Mars: fourth planet from the Sun

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in terms of distance and has an average distance of about 228 million kilometers. This is about 1,5 times greater than the distance from the Earth to the Sun, which is about 150 million kilometers.

Due to its great distance from the Sun, Mars receives 4 times less solar energy than Earth and has a lower temperature on its surface.

 

Distance from Mars to the Sun and Earth

The distance from Mars to the Sun and Earth is not constant, but varies depending on the position of the planets in their orbits. The minimum distance from Mars to the Sun is reached during perihelion and is about 207 million km. The maximum distance from Mars to the Sun is reached during aphelion and is about 249 million km.

The minimum distance from Mars to Earth is reached during opposition, when Mars and Earth are on the same side of the Sun, and is about 56 million km. The maximum distance from Mars to Earth is reached during conjunction, when Mars and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, and is about 401 million km.

Mars: everything you wanted to know about the red planet

wikimedia.org

 

Physical characteristics of Mars

Diameter of Mars

The diameter of Mars is about 6792 km (4220 miles), which is about half the diameter of Earth, which is about 2 km (12756 miles).

 

Radius of Mars

The radius of the red planet is about 3396 km, which is about 2 times smaller than the radius of the Earth, which is about 6378 km.

 

Surface area of ​​Mars

The surface area of ​​Mars is about 144 million km², which is approximately equal to the land area of ​​Earth, which is about 149 million km².

 

Volume of Mars

The volume of the planet is approximately 163 billion cubic kilometers, which is approximately 7 times less than the volume of the Earth, which is approximately 1083 billion cubic kilometers.

 

Mass of Mars

The total mass of Mars is about 642 billion tons, which is about 10 times less than the mass of the Earth, which is about 5972 billion tons.

 

Density of Mars

The density of the planet Mars is about 3,93 g/cm³, which is about 1,3 times less than the density of the Earth, which is about 5,51 g/cm³.

 

Age of Mars

Mars has been around for about 4,6 billion years, which is about the same age as Earth, which also formed about 4,6 billion years ago.

Mars: everything you wanted to know about the red planet

Comparison of the sizes of the Earth (average radius 6371 km) and Mars (average radius 3390 km) | wikimedia.org

 

Orbit and rotation period of Mars

Martian day and its duration

Mars rotates on its axis and around the Sun. The time it takes Mars to complete one revolution around its axis is called a Martian day or sol. It is about 24 hours 39 minutes, which is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.

 

Martian year and its duration

The time it takes Mars to complete one revolution around the Sun is called the Martian year. It is about 687 Earth days, which is about 1,9 times longer than an Earth year.

 

Seasons on Mars

Due to the different lengths of the day and year on Mars, the seasons here are also different from those on Earth. There are 4 seasons on Mars: spring, summer, autumn and winter. However, due to the elliptical orbit of the red planet, the length of the seasons here is not uniform.

In the northern hemisphere of Mars, spring lasts 194 sols, summer lasts 178 sols, autumn lasts 142 sols, and winter lasts 154 sols.

In the southern hemisphere of Mars, spring lasts 142 sols, summer lasts 154 sols, autumn lasts 194 sols, and winter lasts 178 sols.

Thus, the southern hemisphere of Mars experiences more extreme seasons than the northern hemisphere. This is due to the fact that during the southern summer, Mars is closer to the Sun, and during the southern winter, it is further from the Sun than during the northern summer and winter.

Orbit of Mars

Orbit of Mars and other planets of our solar system | wikipedia.org

 

Atmosphere and climate on Mars

Composition of the atmosphere of Mars

Mars has a very thin atmosphere, consisting mainly of carbon dioxide (95.32%), as well as nitrogen (2.7%), argon (1.6%), oxygen (0.13%), water vapor (0.03%), and other gases.

The atmospheric pressure on Mars averages about 6 millibars, which is about 160 times less than the atmospheric pressure on Earth, which is about 1013 millibars.

Due to the low atmospheric pressure on Mars, water cannot exist in a liquid state on the surface of the planet, but immediately passes from a solid state (ice) to a gaseous state (steam).

 

Temperature on Mars and temperature range

Temperatures on Mars vary greatly depending on the time of day, time of year, latitude, and altitude. On average, the temperature on Mars is about -63°C, which is about 5 times lower than the average temperature on Earth, which is about 15°C. However, temperatures on Mars can vary widely, from -143°C to 35°C.

The coldest temperatures on Mars occur during winter at the poles, where temperatures can drop to -143°C. The highest temperatures on Mars occur during summer at the equator, where temperatures can rise to 35°C. Also, the temperature on Mars can vary greatly during the day. For example, at the equator the temperature can be around 20 °C during the day and around -73°C at night.

 

Weather on Mars

Weather on the red planet is determined by the movement of the atmosphere, which is influenced by solar radiation, the planet's rotation, surface roughness and seasonal changes. Here you can observe various weather phenomena such as clouds, fog, wind, dust storms, snow and frost.

Clouds on Mars are composed of crystals of water ice or carbon dioxide and form in the upper atmosphere. Fog forms in the lower atmosphere due to the condensation of water vapor and can cover valleys and craters.

Wind on Mars arises from differences in temperature and pressure between different regions of the planet and can reach speeds of up to 100 m/s.

Dust storms on this planet are the most powerful and large-scale in the solar system. They can eclipse the Sun, raise dust to a height of 60 km and cover the entire planet. Dust storms on Mars occur more often during spring and summer in the southern hemisphere, when the planet is closer to the Sun.

Snow and frost on Mars form when water vapor or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere freezes and settles on the planet's surface. Snow and frost are more common here during winter at the poles, where temperatures are low enough for ice to form.

 

Climate on Mars

The climate on Mars depends on many factors, such as distance from the Sun, axis tilt, surface albedo, atmospheric composition and geological activity.

The climate here can change over geological epochs due to changes in the planet's orbit, oscillations in axis tilt, volcanism, asteroid impacts and other processes. There are 3 main climatic zones on Mars: polar, temperate and tropical.

The polar zone is located at latitudes above 60° and is characterized by low temperature, high pressure, low humidity, low precipitation and low winds.

The temperate zone is located at latitudes from 30° to 60° and is characterized by moderate temperature, average pressure, average humidity, average precipitation and average wind.

The tropical zone is located at latitudes below 30° and is characterized by high temperature, low pressure, high humidity, high rainfall and strong winds.

Animation showing the main features of Mars

 

Surface of Mars

The surface of Mars and its features

The surface of Mars is a diverse and complex landscape that has been shaped by various geological processes such as volcanism, tectonics, erosion, asteroid impacts and glaciation.

The surface of the red planet has 2 main types: old surfaces and young surfaces.

Old surfaces on Mars have a large number of craters, which indicate the antiquity and low geological activity of these regions.

Young surfaces on Mars have fewer craters, indicating higher geological activity in these regions. Young surfaces are also more diverse in relief and composition. You can see volcanoes, canyons and valleys there.

 

Volcanoes of Mars

Mars has the largest and most numerous volcanoes in the solar system. They were formed due to the uplift and melting of the mantle beneath the planet's crust.

Volcanoes on Mars vary in shape, size and age. The most famous of them are Olympus, Arsia, Pavonis and Askraevs, which form the Tarsian plateau on the equator of the planet. They are shield volcanoes, meaning they have a wide and flat shape.

Olympus Volcano is the highest volcano in the solar system, with a height of 21,9 km above sea level and a diameter of 600 km.

Other volcanoes on Mars are Elysium, Albor and Apollinaris, which are located in the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet. These volcanoes have a height of 4 to 8 km and a diameter of 100 to 200 km. They are cone-shaped volcanoes, that is, they have a narrow and tall shape.

Mars: everything you wanted to know about the red planet

The largest volcano on Mars, Olympus. Its diameter is about 550 km (340 miles) | wikipedia.org

 

Canyons

Mars has the deepest and longest canyons in the solar system. They were formed due to faults and erosion of the planet's crust.

Canyons on Mars vary in shape, size and age. The most famous of them is the Mariner Valley, which is located on the equator of the planet. This canyon has a length of about 4500 km, a depth of up to 7 km and a width of 2 to 120 km. It is the largest canyon in the solar system and is larger than even the Grand Canyon on Earth.

Other canyons on Mars are Noctis Labyrinthus, Valles Marineris, Kandor Chasma, Ophirius Chasma and others, which form a canyon system in the west of the planet. They are complex and winding canyons that have many branches and intersections.

Mars: everything you wanted to know about the red planet

Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars | wikimedia.org

 

Valleys

Mars has many valleys that were formed due to tectonic, volcanic, erosional and glacial processes. They also come in different shapes, sizes and ages.

The most famous valleys on Mars are the river valleys that are located in the southern hemisphere of the planet. These valleys are up to 1000 km long, up to 10 km wide and up to 100 m deep. They are evidence that in ancient times rivers flowed on Mars, carrying water and sediment.

Other valleys on Mars are wind valleys, which are located in the northern hemisphere of the planet. These valleys reach a length of 100 km, a width of up to 100 m and a depth of up to 10 m. They are the result of the fact that the wind blew dust and sand from the lowlands and left behind narrow and deep ditches.

Another type of valley on Mars is ice valleys, which are located at the planet’s poles. These valleys range in length from 10 to 100 km, width from 10 to 100 km and depth from 10 to 100 m. They are a consequence of the fact that the ice moved along the surface of the planet and carved grooves and depressions in it.

 

Composition of the surface (soil) of Mars

The soil on Mars is a mixture of minerals, dust, sand, gravel and rocks that were formed due to the destruction of the planet's crust. This soil has different composition depending on the region, depth and history.

The most common element in the soil on Mars is oxygen, which makes up about 45% by mass. Other commonly found elements in soil are iron (about 20%), silicon (about 15%), magnesium (about 7%), aluminum (about 6%), calcium (about 4%), sulfur (about 2%), and other.

Due to the high content of iron oxide (rust), the soil of Mars is reddish or brownish in color.

The most common minerals here are silicates, oxides, sulfates, carbonates, phosphates and halides.

An interesting fact is that traces of organic substances have been found in the soil of this planet, which may be a sign of life in the past or present.

The soil on Mars has different densities, porosity, humidity and temperatures depending on the region, depth and season.

 

Martian craters

Craters on Mars are depressions in the surface of the planet that were formed as a result of impacts from asteroids, comets and other celestial bodies. Craters on Mars vary in size, shape, depth, age, and condition.

The largest craters have a diameter of 100 to 1000 km and a depth of 10 to 100 km. These are the oldest craters on Mars, dating back about 4 billion years ago.

The smallest craters range from 1 to 10 m in diameter and 0,1 to 1 m in depth. They are the youngest craters and date from a few years ago to several million years ago.

Mars: everything you wanted to know about the red planet

Korolev crater containing 2200 cubic kilometers of ice | wikimedia.org

 

Martian dunes and hills

Dunes and hills on Mars are formed due to the movement and accumulation of dust, sand, gravel and rocks by wind, water or ice. They have different sizes, shapes, heights, colors and locations.

The largest dunes and hills on Mars range in size from 10 to 100 km, shape from linear to stellate, height from 10 to 100 m, and color from red to black. They are the youngest and most dynamic landforms on Mars and are constantly changing under the influence of wind.

The smallest dunes and hills with a height and diameter of no more than 10 m have a dome-shaped or hilly shape, color from yellow to white. They are the oldest and most stable landforms on Mars and rarely change due to wind.

 

Natural resources of Mars

Natural resources on Mars are natural materials and energy that can be used for various purposes, such as scientific research, colonization, mining, or tourism. The most important natural resources here are water, metals and energy.

 

Water

Water on Mars is a vital resource for all forms of life, as well as for scientific, colonization and tourism purposes. Water here exists in three states: solid, liquid and gaseous.

Solid water on Mars occurs in the form of ice at the poles, below the surface, and in meteorites. Liquid water is found in the form of underground rivers, lakes and aquifers. Gaseous is found in the form of water vapor in the atmosphere.

The amount of water on the red planet is estimated at 20–30 million cubic kilometers, which is about 50 times less than the amount of water on Earth, which is about 1400 million cubic kilometers.

Martian water may also be needed to support human life on Mars in the future. It is the subject of active study and search through various missions and instruments.

 

Metals

Metals on Mars are valuable resources for various purposes such as construction, manufacturing, energy, communications, transportation and trade. They exist in the form of elements, alloys, ores or meteorites.

The most common metals on Mars are iron, aluminum, magnesium, nickel, copper, zinc, lead, gold and platinum. Their quantity is estimated at several billion tons, which is about 100 times less than the amount of metals on Earth, which is about 800 billion tons.

 

Energy

Energy is a necessary resource for all activities such as lighting, heating, cooling, movement, processing, transmission and storage of information. Energy on Mars comes in the form of solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear or chemical.

The amount of energy on Mars is estimated at several trillion kilowatt-hours. On Earth, the amount of energy is approximately 1000 times greater than on Mars.

 

Geological processes on Mars

Geological processes on Mars depend on many factors, such as temperature, pressure, humidity, gravity, solar radiation, magnetic field, internal structure and activity of the planet. Below we will look at the most important of them.

 

Volcanism

Volcanism on Mars was active in the past, but now it has almost died out. Volcanism here was responsible for the creation of the largest volcanoes in the Solar System, such as Olympus, Arsia, Pavonis and Ascraeves, as well as the formation of the Tarsian Plateau, Elysian Plateau and other highlands.

Volcanism on Mars influenced the composition and temperature of the atmosphere, the distribution of water and ice, and the chemical and mineral composition of the surface.

 

Tectonics

Tectonics is the process by which the planet's crust is broken into plates that move relative to each other under the influence of forces arising in the planet's mantle. Tectonics on Mars was also active in the past, but now it has practically stopped.

As a result of this process, the deepest and longest canyons in the Solar System were formed here, such as the Valles Marineris, Valles Marineris, Noctis Labyrinthus and others, as well as the formation of ridges, grabens, folds, faults and other structures.

 

Erosion

Erosion is a process in which the surface of a planet is subject to destruction and movement under the influence of wind, water, ice, gravity, impacts and other factors. Erosion on Mars has been active in the past and continues to be active in the present.

As a result of erosion, the most ancient and youngest landforms on the planet were formed, such as river valleys, wind valleys, ice valleys, craters, dunes, and hills.

Mars: everything you wanted to know about the red planet

Panorama of the surface of Mars in Jezero Crater, taken by the Perseverance rover | wikimedia.org

 

Mars core

The core of Mars consists of iron, nickel and other heavy elements. It has a radius of about 1800 km, a mass of about 15% of the planet's mass and a temperature of about 1500 °C.

The core of Mars is divided into 2 layers: the outer core and the inner core. The outer core is a liquid layer that rotates around the inner core and creates the planet's geomagnetic field. The inner core is a hard layer that consists of iron and nickel crystals.

The core of Mars affects the temperature, pressure, density and composition of the planet's mantle and crust, the geomagnetic field and the possibility of the existence of life on the planet.

 

Magnetic field of Mars

Mars' magnetic field is a force that arises from the movement of electrically charged particles in the planet's core, mantle, crust and atmosphere. The magnetic field of Mars has a complex and unstable structure, which consists of global and local fields.

The global magnetic field is a weak and irregular field that is formed due to the remanent magnetization of the planet's crust. A local magnetic field is a strong and diffuse field that is formed due to the turbulence of ionized gas in a planet's atmosphere.

The magnetic field of Mars affects the distribution and movement of charged particles in space, the protection of the planet from the solar wind and cosmic rays, the formation of the magnetosphere and aurora, climate and weather, geochemistry and geobiology, and the possibility of the existence of life on the planet.

 

Gravity on Mars

Gravity on Mars is the force that attracts all bodies towards the center of the planet. Gravity depends on the mass and radius of the planet, as well as on the distance to its surface. Gravity on Mars is about 38% of gravity on Earth, that is, about 3,7 m/s².

Gravity affects the weight and movement of bodies on the planet, the shape and size of the planet, the orbits and periods of revolution of satellites, the ebb and flow of tides, atmospheric pressure and temperature, geology and geodesy, biology and physiology.

 

Earthquakes on Mars

Earthquakes on Mars were rare and weak in the past, but have become more frequent and stronger in the present. They are caused by various reasons, such as tectonic processes, volcanic activity, asteroid impacts, thermal stresses, phase transitions of water and ice, gravitational interactions with the Sun and satellites.

Earthquakes on Mars are measured on a magnitude scale, which measures the energy released during an earthquake. The largest earthquake recorded on Mars had a magnitude of about 4,5, which is about the same as an average earthquake on Earth.

 

Moons of Mars

The moons of Mars are called Phobos and Deimos. They were discovered in 1877 by American astronomer Asaph Hall.

Phobos and Deimos are irregular in shape and small in size, composed of porous rocky matter that is covered with a thick layer of dust and gravel. Both satellites rotate around their axis and around Mars at the same speed, so they always face the same side towards the planet.

 

Phobos satellite

Phobos is the closest satellite to Mars, located at a distance of about 6000 km from the center of the planet. Phobos has a diameter of about 22 km and a mass of about 10 billion tons.

Phobos has an irregular shape that resembles a potato. It has many craters, of which the largest is called Styx. It also has several grooves that may be marks from impacts or stress in the cortex.

The moon Phobos makes one revolution around Mars in 7 hours 39 minutes, which is less than a Martian day. Because of this, Phobos moves across the sky faster than the Sun and can set and rise twice a day.

Phobos is gradually approaching Mars due to the planet's gravitational pull, and in a few million years it will either break into a ring or fall onto the surface of Mars.

 

Deimos satellite

Deimos is the farthest satellite from Mars, which is located at a distance of about 23000 km from the center of the planet. It has a diameter of about 12 km and a mass of about 2 billion tons.

Deimos has an irregular shape that resembles a triangle. It has fewer craters than Phobos, of which the largest is called Swift.

The moon Deimos orbits Mars every 30 hours and 18 minutes, which is longer than a Martian day. Because of this, Deimos moves slower across the sky than the Sun and can set and rise once every two days.

Deimos is gradually moving away from Mars due to the planet's gravitational pull, and in a few billion years it may leave orbit and become a free asteroid.

Mars: everything you wanted to know about the red planet

Satellites of Mars: Phobos and Deimos | wikimedia.org

 

Conclusion

Mars is an amazing and unique planet that has much in common with Earth, but also many differences from it. Mars has many interesting and mysterious features, such as its red color, two moons, four seasons, the largest volcanoes and canyons, a thin atmosphere, dust storms, polar ice caps, ancient river valleys, natural resources and geological processes.

Mars is an object of scientific interest and research, as it can provide answers to many questions about the origin and evolution of the Solar System, the possibility of the existence of life on other planets, and the prospects for colonization and tourism on Mars.

Mars is a planet that deserves attention and study, as it can open up new horizons and opportunities for us.

 

From its bloody color to its life-sustaining potential, Mars has intrigued humanity for millennia. In the following video, learn how the Red Planet formed from gas and dust and what its polar ice caps mean for life as we know it.

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