10 Facts about Mars That Every Traveler Should Know

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Greene, Nick. "10 Facts about Mars That Every Traveler Should Know." ThoughtCo, Mar. 6, 2017, thoughtco.com/things-you-should-know-about-mars-3073200. Greene, Nick. (2017, March 6). 10 Facts about Mars That Every Traveler Should Know. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-you-should-know-about-mars-3073200 Greene, Nick. "10 Facts about Mars That Every Traveler Should Know." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-you-should-know-about-mars-3073200 (accessed October 23, 2017).
Mars globe
Mars is the closest Earth-like planet in the solar system, but with an atmosphere much thinner than Earth's and no water to be seen on its surface. NASA

Mars is in the news a lot these days. Not only are we exploring it with robotic probes such as the Curiosity rover, and a collection of orbiters, but the planet is the next big target for human exploration. Since it may become humanity's next home within a couple of decades, it's a good idea to know some important facts about the Red Planet.

 

Edited and updated by Carolyn Collins Petersen.

01
of 10

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun.

Planet Mars, Earth visible in background (Digital Composite)
World Perspectives/ Photographer's Choice/ Getty Images

Mars orbits the sun at an average distance of 227 million kilometers (km, or 141 million miles). It takes 686.93 Earth days or 1.8807 Earth years to complete one orbit. 

02
of 10

Mars is the seventh-largest planet.

Pictures of Mars - Mars Daily Global Image
Pictures of Mars - Mars Daily Global Image. Copyright 1995-2003, California Institute of Technology

Mars is about half the diameter of Earth and has a tenth of Earth's mass. Its gravity is about one third that of Earth, and its density is about 30 percent less. While Mars may have Earth-like features, it is definitely smaller.  Inside Mars, its core is probably mostly iron, with small amounts of nickel. Spacecraft mapping of its gravity field seems to indicate that its iron-rich core and mantle are a smaller portion of its volume than on Earth. Also, it has a much weaker magnetic field than Earth, which indicates a mostly solid, rather than liquid core.

03
of 10

Mars is a small rocky body.

Pictures of Mars - Lander 2 Site
Pictures of Mars - Lander 2 Site. Copyright 1995-2003, California Institute of Technology

Like the other "terrestrial" planets, Mercury, Venus, and Earth, the Martian surface has been changed by volcanism, impacts from other bodies, movements of its crust, and atmospheric effects such as dust storms. 

04
of 10

Mars's surface is very similar to Earth's.

Pictures of Mars - Western Tithonium Chasma - Ius Chasma
Pictures of Mars - Western Tithonium Chasma - Ius Chasma. Copyright 1995-2003, California Institute of Technology

Even though Mars looks very familiar with its mountains, craters, valleys, dune fields, and polar caps, it would still be a very harsh place to live. Temperature are quite extreme, ranging between -225 and +60 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average of -67 degrees.

05
of 10

Mars has some remarkable geological characteristics.

Pictures of Mars - Ophir Chasma
Pictures of Mars - Ophir Chasma. Copyright 1995-2003, California Institute of Technology

The Martian suface is rich in features we can recognize easily. They  include the largest volcanic mountain in the solar system, Olympus Mons (27 km high and 600 km across), more volcanoes in the northern Tharsis region (which is a crustal deformation so huge and massive that planetary scientists think it may have tipped the planet slightly), and a gigantic equatorial rift valley called the Valles Marineris. This canyon system stretches a distance equivalent to the width of North America.  Arizona's Grand Canyon could easily fit into one of the side canyons of this great chasm.

06
of 10

Mars has conditions that may have once supported life.

Pictures of Mars - Martian Solar Eclipses
Pictures of Mars - Martian Solar Eclipses. Copyright 1995-2003, California Institute of Technology

Mars has a very thin atmosphere made up mostly of carbon dioxide (95.3%) plus nitrogen (2.7%), argon (1.6%) and traces of oxygen (0.15%) and water (0.03%). Also, water has been found to exist in liquid form on the planet. Water is an essential ingredient for life. Unfortunately, the Martian atmosphere is slowly leaking to space, a process that began billions of years ago.

07
of 10

Mars has inspired wild flights of imagination.

Pictures of Mars - Enormous Volcano
Pictures of Mars - Enormous Volcano. Copyright 1995-2003, California Institute of Technology

Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed Mars during the opposition of 1877 making note of what he called canali or channels. This was misinterpreted to mean canals, which many thought to indicate intelligent life.

In 1939, Orson Welles's radio theater company performed a production based on HG Wells's book "War of the Worlds" and caused a panic in many people who did not realize the event was merely a play.

08
of 10

Mars has two tiny satellites which may be captured asteroids.

Phobos from 6,800 Kilometers
Phobos from 6,800 Kilometers. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Phobos orbits Mars at a distance of 9,000 km. It is about 22 km across and was discovered by American astronomer Asaph Hall, Sr., in 1877, at the US Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.

Deimos is Mars's other moon, and it's about 12 km across.  It was also discovered by American astronomer Asaph Hall, Sr., in 1877, at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. Phobos and Deimos are Latin words meaning "fear" and "panic". 

09
of 10

Mars has been visited by spacecraft since the early 1960s.

Mars Global Surveyor Mission
Mars Global Surveyor Mission. NASA

Dozens of missions have visited Mars, and more than half of them have successfully sent back images and data. For example, in 2004, a pair of Mars Exploration Rovers called Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars and started providing pictures and data. Spirit is now defunct, but Opportunity continues to roll. They have shown us layered rocks, mountains, craters, and odd mineral deposits consistent with flowing water and dried-up lakes and oceans. The Mars Curiosity rover landed in 2012 and continues to provide "ground truth" data about the surface of the Red Planet. Many other missions have orbited the planet, and more are planned over the next decade. The most recent launch was ExoMars, from the European Space Agency.

10
of 10

One day, humans will walk on Mars.

NASA's new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) with solar panels deployed, docked with a lunar lander.
NASA's new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) with solar panels deployed, docked with a lunar lander in lunar orbit. NASA & John Frassanito and Associates

NASA currently is planning a return to the moon in what is being called the first step towards a human expedition to the Red Planet. Such a mission is not likely to "lift off" for at least a decade, but planning is already underway.  From Elon Musk's Mars plans to NASA's long-term strategy for exploring the planet to China's interest in that distant world, it's pretty clear that people will be living and working on Mars before the middle of the century. 

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Greene, Nick. "10 Facts about Mars That Every Traveler Should Know." ThoughtCo, Mar. 6, 2017, thoughtco.com/things-you-should-know-about-mars-3073200. Greene, Nick. (2017, March 6). 10 Facts about Mars That Every Traveler Should Know. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-you-should-know-about-mars-3073200 Greene, Nick. "10 Facts about Mars That Every Traveler Should Know." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-you-should-know-about-mars-3073200 (accessed October 23, 2017).