Mars in late spring. William Herschel believed the light areas were land and the dark areas were oceans.
Mars, now cold and dry, once was a warmer and wetter planet that scientists think could have sustained life. Several missions to Mars have found the planet may have water underneath the rocky surface, providing an environment for life to possibly grow. There is, however, no firm evidence for life on Mars.
The red color was the likely reason Mars was named after the Roman god of war. The color comes from iron oxide on the dusty surface. This reddish color is an easy way to spot Mars in the night sky.
Some interesting facts about the red planet:
- The planet has polar ice caps, valleys, volcanoes and craters. The Mars volcano, Olympus Mons, about 70 miles (600 kilometers) in diameter and about 17 miles (27 kilometers) tall, is the largest in our solar system.
- Despite having such a varied terrain, Mars is about half the diameter of Earth.
- Just like on Earth, Mars experiences seasons because of a tilted axis. However, the planet has a very cold climate since it’s 141,633,260 miles (227,936,640 km) from the sun.
- Mars experiences strong dust storms that can last for months and have been known to engulf the entire planet.
- Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, named after the two sons of Greek war god Ares. The Mars moonsare very small, Phobos is about 17 miles (27 kilometers) wide and Deimos is roughly nine miles (15 kilometers). Phobos is gradually spiraling toward Mars and astronomers predict it will crash into the planet within 50 million years.
Dozens of unmanned spacecraft have been sent to Mars by several countries to study the planets climate and geology. NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on Mars Aug. 6, 2012 and will spend years analyzing the rocks on Mars for signs of life. While the thin atmosphere and dry climate aren’t hospitable, the planet may have liquid water deep underground providing an environment for life to grow.