Do you know that it would take as much as six Mars to equal the mass of the Earth. Over the years, various space agencies from all over the world initiated innumerable space missions, some were historic and some are doomed to fail. Without a doubt, Mars is the most extensively researched planets out of all in our solar system.
Mars, or the red planet is the fourth planet from the Sun, separating Earth from the asteroid belt. Even-though, the red planet is clearly observable here from the Earth with the help of telescopes, more closer observations are needed to study the planets interior and atmosphere for better understanding of the planet.
From evidences of water to unique features on the planet’s surface and atmosphere, here we have gathered 15 intriguing facts about Mars, including some of the historic latest uncovering’s done by NASA and other space agencies around the globe.
First Known Observation: 2nd Millennium BC
Equatorial Diameter: 6,792 km
Mass: 6.42 x 10^23 kg
Density: 3.9335 g/cm
Surface Gravity: 3.711 m/s²
Orbital Period: 1.9 Earth years or 687 days
Satellites or Moons: Phobos and Deimos
15. The Red Planet took its name from the Roman God of War
Every other planets in our solar system have their names derived from either Greek or Roman mythology, except the name Earth, which have English and German origins. Various ancient civilizations over the course of the human history have observed and named Mars based on their mythology.
The ancient Greeks named it Ares, their god of war. Chinese and Egyptian astronomers used to call it ‘the fire star’ and ‘Her Desher’ respectively due to its red appearance. The Romans also associated the planet’s blood red color with ‘Mars,’ their own god of war.
14. Largest Dust Storms in the Solar System
Image courtesy: NASA/ Artist expression
Dust storms are common on Earth, especially in dry regions like the Arabian peninsula and North Africa. But the Martian dust storm is not something that we observe here on the Earth. Dust storms on Mars can prevail for weeks and even for months, covering the entire planet. In an interview, a planetary scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Center, Michael Smith said ‘almost every year, few big dust storms that originate on Mars covers the entire continent-sized areas on the red planet that lasts for weeks.’
13. Only 23 missions to Mars have been successful So Far
Image Courtesy: Wikipedia/ NASA
Although, NASA’s Mariner 9 became the first successful space mission to probe Mars, Soviet Union’s Mars 2 and Mars 3 were the first ever space orbiter to enter the Martian orbit. The Mars 3 was also equipped with a lander or a decent module, which landed on Mars on December 2, 1971, but failed just after transmitting 20 seconds of data.
As of 2016, there have been more than 40 space missions sent to Mars (excluding flybys) of which only half of them were (are) successful. Some of the most recent Mars missions are NASA’s Curiosity rover (2012), ISRO’s Mangalyan Orbiter (2013) and Maven. In 2016, ESA and Roscosmos sent the ExoMars orbiter to deeply study the planet’s atmosphere.
12. Mars Harbors the tallest mountain in our solar system
Olympus Mons on Mars, the tallest known mountain on the Solar system. Image taken by Viking Orbiter
Do you ever wonder, which planet in our solar system has the tallest mountain? The answer is Mars. Well, according to the peak height, the crown of the highest mountain goes to Vesta, a minor planet located in the asteroid belt, but since it’s not a planet, Mars is recognized as having the tallest mountain.
With a diameter, stretching up to 600 km and 21 km in height, Olympus Moon is biggest of them all. Multiple studies have revealed that it formed out of volcanic eruption millions of years ago.
11. Morse Codes on Martian Surface
Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL
Operational probes and Rovers have been observing the Martian surface for years now, and dunes are one of the most integral part of it. But recent data collected by the MRO or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are what caught the eye of planetary researchers the most. Back in early 2016, the orbiter identified a specific region on the planet’s surface that featured dunes with complex shapes including dots and dashes just like Morse code.
Researchers believe that the dunes resembling the shape of “dash” were formed due winds cutting them in at 90 degree angle from both the directions, which caused these to take a more linear form. But what is still a mystery to the Martian experts is the “dots.” Normally, these structures take place whenever some external force interrupts the formation of linear dunes.
10. Pieces of Mars have fallen to Earth
Martian Meteorite EETA79001
Do you know, that more than 130 meteorites have been discovered on Earth which have Martian origin. That’s right. Over the period of time, small pieces of mars’ surface have ejected into the space among other solar debris before crashing on the Earth’s surface. These small meteorites from the red planet have helped researchers to study Martian characteristics more closely even before the disposal of Mars rovers.
9. Mars May have its Own planetary Ring in the Future
Right now only the outer planets or gas giants in our solar system have planetary rings, but researchers believe that Mars might be the first of the terrestrial planets to have a ring of its own. In the next 30-50 million years, one of its two moons, Phobos will be torn apart due to excessive gravitational pull the planet is currently drawing in on the moon. On a different note, scientist believe that a similar fate is awaiting Neptune’s moon Triton, which has already started to fail.
8. Mars May have been white in the past
According to scientists at the Southern Research Institute, CU Boulder, the red planet could actually be more white in the past. They reached to this conclusion after finding out that the planet underwent an ice age in relatively recent history and it was much more intense than anything recorded on Earth.
Using the ground radars, scientists were able to observe 2 km deep into Mars’ surface to witness icy crust indicating that the red planet had experienced a massive ice age about 400,000 years ago and it might witness another one again in 150,000 years or so.
7. Martian Mineral Mystery
Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Back in 2015, NASA’s Curiosity rover investigated a previously unexplored area on the Martian surface. Now designated as the “Marias Pass,” this geological region is marked with extremely high levels of silica. On Earth, this chemical compound is found in rocks and minerals, mostly in quartz.
What surprised scientists even more is detection of a rare earth mineral known as tridymite in collected samples. Even-though, tridymite is extremely rare on Earth, it’s found in abundance in the Marias Pass on Mars and we still do not know how it ended up there.
6. Mars’ Mohawk
Image Courtesy: X. Fang, University of Colorado, and the MAVEN science team
Computer simulations based on data from NASA’s recent Mars expedition MAVEN have revealed a very trendy feature of the planet Mars. A Mohawk like feature caused due to rigorous expulsion of charged particles from the upper Martian atmosphere to space with the help of solar winds. Electrical field created by solar events like coronal mass ejections and flares directs these particles towards either of Martian poles. This caused a Mohawk like appearance on the upper atmosphere.
5. Hidden Underground Volcano
Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/ASU
While collecting samples near the martian region of Sisyphi Montes, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter stumbled upon a mysterious substance. Upon further studies, researchers discovered that the mysterious mineral was tridymite, which generally occurs in volcanic rocks on Earth.
The discovery of tridymite in Martian surface indicates that it had suffered intense volcanic activities in the past. Furthermore, recent evidences from the rover also reveal the possibility of underground volcanoes that had occurred underneath Martian ice. One clear evidence of this is the existence of flat-topped mountains in Sisyphi Montes which closely resembles to underground volcanoes found here on Earth.
4. Ancient Martian Tsunamis
Image Courtesy: Sciencenews.org
Martian ocean hypothesis is perhaps the most popular theories regarding the red planet, where it’s speculated that most of the Mars’ surface was covered with water earlier sometime during the planet’s geological history. Although, researchers are actively debating on a new research that discovered some sort of ocean did exist on Mars, but was destroyed by a series gigantic tsunamis. The research indicated that these ancient tsunamis were so huge and violent that can overshadow anything that we see here on Earth.
3. Farming on Mars
Image Courtesy: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
If we are going to colonize Mars someday, we need to grow crops on Mars barren surface or we would just end up spending billions and billions of dollars for exporting food for a couple of days or a week. To make growing crops on Mars a reality, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center along with Buzz Aldrin Space Institute in Melbourne, Florida is collaborating to study the performance of a special group of crops grown in a simulated “Martian Garden.”
‘Here we are using advanced sciences to develop and implement methods to increase plant production to assist astronauts with proper diets,’ said Trent Smith from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They are working on a project called Veggie, a plant growth unit which will enable space plantation experiments on the ISS.
2. The Planetary Tail (Most Recent Discovery)
Image Courtesy: NASA
Scientists have now discovered yet another unusual feature of the planet Mars. In a recent discovery, NASA’s Maven orbiter has revealed that Mars has a planetary tail, something that’s never been observed before. Data from the Maven space craft indicated that planet’s invisible tail is made up of magnetic forces, which is unique among other planets in our solar system.
During some point of time, Mars might have had a strong magnetic field, a lot like our Earth, but is tragically lost due to some reason. Whatever is left now is just an impression of its former entity, but it’s strong enough to express itself as a planet’s tail. Researchers believe that these dispersed magnetic fields are still detectable on particular places on the Martian surface.
1. Ancient Mars Was Full of Water
Image Courtesy: NASA/GSFC
After years of research on Martian atmosphere and surface, scientists have come to a conclusion that our planetary neighbor Mars definitely had lots of water in the past. But, NASA suggests that some time in the past, the Red planet had enough water that can completely fill the planet’s surface in one gigantic ocean.
Mars has two forms of water present in its atmosphere: H20 and HDO (hard water) and their quantities are also measured. In order to reach the conclusion, researchers compared the ratio between H20 and HDO present today with water ratio from an ancient Martian meteorite.
The study strongly indicates that Mars almost lost 87% of its water reserve to space. Several calculations also led to the speculation that the ancient ocean of Mars might be much bigger than the Earth’s Arctic Ocean.