Guide to the planets…Mars

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap visible on the bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Fact file

  • fourth planet from the sun (distance from the sun: 141, 663 ,260 miles)
  • evidence of water on mars in the past
  • average surface temperature ranges from -87 degrees C to -5 degrees C
  • length of year: 687 days
  • length of day: 24 hours and 37 minutes
  • number of moons: 2

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, and it has been suggested that it once had vast volumes of liquid water flowing on its surface. Ancient river beds have been observed on the surface of mars, and from space, a massive canyon can be seen, known as the Valles Marineris. this  colossal canyon runs along the planet’s equator and if placed on earth would run right across America from Los Angeles to New York. To put it into more of a perspective, if the grand canyon was placed inside it, it would only be big enough to fill one of its tiny tributaries. This evidence of water flowing across Mars, suggests that Mars’ climate was once a lot warmer. This could have been due to its atmosphere along with its geological activity. Millions of years ago, when Mars was still geologically active, the atmosphere would have been thick enough to insulate the planet, keeping heat from the sun inside the atmosphere and maintaining a warmer temperature, much like that of Earth. However, Mars’ geological activity didn’t continue, the gases released from volcanic eruptions on the planet, that provided the makings of the atmosphere, stopped. This meant that the atmosphere was no longer being sustained. Also because Mars is smaller, it doesn’t have the gravitational energy to be able to hold on to its atmosphere, meaning much of it was stripped away by the solar winds from the sun. The removal of a thick atmosphere meant that most surface water was lost into space, and the water that was left on the planet became frozen at the poles as temperatures fell below 0 degrees C. The thin atmosphere also means that any water on the surface, cannot exist for long.  This removed the possibility of life as we know it being on Mars.

Mars was once geologically active, and therefore large volcanoes are visible on the surface. these are all at least dormant, possibly extinct, as their eruptions have never been observed. Mars boasts the largest mountain in the entire solar system, Olympus Mons. It is a dormant shield volcano, and is 25km high and 3 times the size of Mount Everest, and covers an area as large as the state of Arizona. This volcano would have produced massive amounts of magma, but due to the cooling of the planet’s core, Olympus Mons and all the other volcanoes on the planet are now dormant and possibly extinct.

Mars has 2 moons Phobos and Deimos.  The moons are probably asteroids, captured by Mars’ gravity. Phobos is the biggest moon of the two and orbits closer to mars than Deimos. Phobos is  unique in the fact that it orbits the closest to its planet, closer than any other known moon in the solar system at only 3,700 miles from Mars’ surface. Phobos is gradually getting closer to Mars and is expected to crash or break up and form a ring around Mars in the next 50 million years. Phobos has also suffered from a large impact in its history due to the evidence of a large crater about 6 miles wide on its surface. Deimos  is the smaller of Mars’ two moons, and orbits Mars every 30 hours. It has a smoother surface than Phobos, due to a powdery soil covering its surface, this soil was created from earlier impacts.

Sources

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