Mars has fascinated humankind from immemorial times with its distinct red color, which conferred it the title of “God of War” in most ancient civilizations. However, the spellbound exerted on us by the Red Planet did not stop with the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. In fact, it continues till this day. As the fourth planet from the Sun continues to mesmerize, it practically calls out on us to come and discover its mysterious origins.
With all the hype created around NASA’s latest mission on Mars, more and more people are becoming interested with this planet. While we’re patiently waiting for curiosity to tell us more about the Red Planet, let’s review some of the interesting things that we already know about it.
1. Olympus Mons
While Mars is considered a rather small astral body, it is home to the largest volcano in the solar system, the mysterious Olympus Mons. Its gigantic height, estimated at a 3 times larger than Mount Everest, as well as its incredible diameter of 375 miles have determined astronomers to classify Olympus Mons as a shield volcano. As a side note, a shield volcano implies a type of mountain built exclusively out of fluid lava flows, which tend to accumulate into broad sheets and take on the shape of a shield.
2. The Martian Clouds
Given the thin atmosphere and the almost inexistence moisture, Mars was considered a cloud-free planet. In spite of the fact that only traces of water vapors can be found in the Martian atmosphere, scientists were amazed to find various cloud formations on the Red Planet. The explanation for this phenomenon comes from the distinct atmospheric pressure and temperature that lead the atmosphere to the point close of saturation and promote the formation of clouds. The latest research indicates that the clouds are mostly made of frozen carbon dioxide and they sometimes become so dense that they dim the sunlight by approximately 40%.
3. The red coloration of the planet
The trademark red coloration of Mars is granted by the high concentration of iron oxide in the soil. Essentially, the prominent gas found in the atmosphere is carbon dioxide and hence, allows observers from Earth to see the Martian surface directly. On a side note, the iron oxide has a talcum consistency and covers most of the surface giving the impression that the rocks are literarily rusting.
4. The mysterious face
In 1976, Viking 1 sent a very interesting photo on Earth depicting what appeared to be a human face. At that point, many believers in the existence of extraterrestrial life supported the idea that there could be life on Mars or that life existed on the Red Planet at some point in time. However, recent surveys on the structure indicate that “The Face” was nothing more than an illusion. While many accept the official NASA story these days (now that we have even more data to work with), there are still some critics who claim it was a cover up.
5. Mars’ seasons are to similar to Earth’s
Astronomical observations revealed that the rotational axis of Mars is tilted with respect to the plane of the planet’s orbit, an element that determines the occurrence of seasons, just like on Earth. A closer examination showed that all four seasons present on our planet can also be found on Mars. However, considering that the duration of the Martian year is double from the one on Earth, it is estimated that each seasonal cycle takes twice as long.
6. The water on Mars
Various channels and landscape formations present on Mars determined numerous scientists to believe that the surface of the Red Planet had been gradually shaped by water, billions of years ago. Still, nobody can offer a clear answer to what happened with all the water on Mars. At this point, the most accepted explanation entails that the water has slowly disappeared into space, which is in fact a plausible justification considering that the Martian atmosphere is extremely thin. However, not everyone is convinced and there are researchers who suggest that large quantities of water are present underneath the surface in both ice and liquid state. The good news is that this question can find an answer with the next rumored NASA mission on Mars.
7. The Red Planet has the same land surface as Earth
Even though Mars is basically half the size of our planet, astronomers revealed the fact that it contains 1.1x more habitable surface compared to Earth. Obviously, this assumption is based on the theory that the entire span of a planet has the potential to become habitable for humans. However promising this may sound for a future colonization project, the truth is that even the most hostile settings on Earth are more suitable for life than any given area on Mars. At least so far!
8. The Martian meteorites
At this point, scientists confirm the existence of 12 Martian meteorites on Earth, the last one recorded being the one that fell in Morocco in 2011. However, the most interesting and notorious Martian meteorite is the ALH 84001, an astral body astronomers assumed was blasted off from Mars around 16 million years ago and that hit Earth (Antarctica), 3 million years later. The fascination surrounding the meteorite comes from the microscopic bacteria fossils found inside. However, the topic is still controversial.
9. The chaotic climate of Mars
Since the Red Planet has similar seasons to Earth, it is only normal to expect temperature variations throughout the Martian year. The surprise of this element as well as the inner-annual patterns observed comes from the fact that Mars does not oceans, one of the main factors that dictate the predictability of weather on Earth. Yet, if a meteorological phenomenon were to occur on Mars, chances are that it will repeat the next year in that exact location and the same date.
10. The totally distinct Martian hemispheres
The Northern and Southern hemispheres of Mars are so distinct that you can classify them as two different planets: while the Southern one contains a lot of crater and a high elevation, the Northern counterpart is bizarrely smooth. So far, the only explanation for this oddity is that of a collision with an astral body the size of Pluto.