The planet Mars has caught the public’s imagination long before Matt Damon got stranded on it. But how well do you really know the red planet? Here are 10 facts about Mars you probably didn’t know.
Why is it red?
Mars gets its famous red color from the presence of iron (not unlike rusty metal). The planet’s regolith, a layer of loose material covering the surface, is made up mostly of iron-rich basaltic rock. Earth also has a regolith, but it contains much less iron, which is one reason our planet isn’t red (besides water and trees). Essentially, Mars is an even bigger Texas.
How big is it?
Earth and Mars have close to the same amount of land. Mars is only 53.2% the size of Earth in terms of circumference, but since Earth is mostly water, we have only about 149 million sq. km. of usable land while Mars has approximately 144 million. This odd piece of trivia may be part of the reason it’s a serious a candidate for long term colonization.
How big is it?
While Mars is 53.2% the size of Earth, its gravity is only 38%, meaning objects only fall at about 3.7 meters per second rather than the 9.8 meters per second we’re used to. That may not sound like much, but I can tell you one thing, football matches would take ages on the Red Planet.
How long is a day?
Being farther away from the Sun, Mars takes a lot longer to complete its orbit. 687 of our days, to be precise. But even though a Mars year is nearly twice as long as ours, its days are only 41 minutes longer. Which means, in terms of how a person would experience time on Mars, you would watch the Olympics every 8 years, celebrate your birthday every 2 years, and our politicians would be in office much, much longer. Be thankful we’re on Earth.
How’s the weather?
Mars is a cold place, a very cold place, which makes it extremely difficult to sustain life. How cold, you ask? It tends to range from -125C to an average of about -60C. Although, along the equator it can reach a balmy 20C. The main reason it’s so cold is because it’s much farther from the Sun, but the fact that its atmosphere doesn’t trap heat like ours does is also a contributing factor.
Distance from Earth
Since Earth and Mars orbit the Sun at different speeds, the distance between the two planets can vary from 56 million km to 401 million km apart. The average distance is about 225 million km, so if you’re planning on joining Elon Musk’s SpaceX colony, you better not forget your toothbrush because it’s a really, really long drive home.
How much would I weigh?
Planning on trying a new diet to get ready for beach season? You may want to plan a trip to Mars as an alternative. Because the gravitational pull on Mars is much less strong, 45kg on Earth is only 17 kg on the Red Planet.
That rover sure is cool
Most people are pretty familiar with the Curiosity Rover, part of NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission. And many of us have seen the fun fact that the rover is programmed to sing Happy Birthday to itself every year on August 5th. However, many don’t know that the Fiat-sized rover has 17 HD cameras on board which could take detailed pictures of fleas (should the need arise), a high-powered drill to bore into Martian rocks, a 37kg internal computer to analyze test samples, and also shoots lasers out of its eyes (literally).
For as long as humans have been around, people have looked at Mars and come up with crazy stories. One strange theory, which actually gained traction among the scientific community in the 19th century, was that there were canals on the Martian surface which were built by an alien race. When traced back, this simple telescopic misunderstanding actually served as the catalyst for all modern alien conspiracy theories.
Mars may have possessed life millions of years ago. It’s well known that Mars could have had oceans in the past, but 20 years ago two NASA geologists suggested that recovered Martian rocks contained fossilized microbes and organic minerals which could have been from bacteria. While that may be a far cry from little green people, it has been argued by many as a plausible sign of previous life.