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Mars photographed by Viking Orbiters
Symbol Symbol::♂
Known to the ancients
Name origin Name origin::Roman god of war
Orbital characteristics
Celestial class Member of::Planet
Primary Primary::Sun
Order from primary Order::4
Perihelion Periapsis::206,620,000 km[1]
Aphelion Apoapsis::249,230,000 km[1]
Semi-major axis Semi-major axis::227,920,000 km[1]
Titius-Bode prediction Titius-Bode prediction::1.6 AU
Circumference Circumference::1,429,033,627 km
Orbital eccentricity Orbital eccentricity::0.0935[1]
Sidereal year Sidereal period::686.980 da[1]
Synodic year Synodic period::779.94 da[1]
Avg. orbital speed Orbital speed::24.077 km/s
Inclination Inclination::1.850° to the ecliptic[1]
Rotational characteristics
Sidereal day Sidereal day::24.6229 h[1]
Solar day Solar day::24.6597 h[1]
Rotation speed Rotation speed::465.11 m/s
Axial tilt Axial tilt::25.19°[1]
Physical characteristics
Mass 6.4185 * 1023 kg[1]
Mean density Planet density::3,933 kg/m³[1]
Mean radius Mean radius::3389.5 km[1]
Equatorial radius Equatorial radius::3396.2 km[1]
Polar radius Polar radius::3376.2 km[1]
Surface gravity Surface gravity::3.71 m/s²[1]
Escape speed Escape speed::5.03 km/s[1]
Surface area Planet surface area::144,800,000 km²
Minimum temperature Minimum temperature::140 K[2]
Mean temperature Mean temperature::218 K[2]
Maximum temperature Maximum temperature::300 K[2]
Number of moons Satellites::2
Composition Composition::Rock
Color Color::#BB6633
Albedo Albedo::0.15[1]
Magnetic dipole moment at present 2.1 * 1018 N-m/T[3]
Magnetic dipole moment at creation 1.51 * 1023 N-m/T[3]
Decay time Magnetic decay time::535 a[3]
Half life Magnetic half life::370.83 a[4]
Mars rover.jpg

Mars, also known as the Red Planet, is the fourth planet in the solar system in order from the Sun, and the second lightest. Mars has fascinated man since ancient times on account of its red color, unique among visible objects in the night sky. Modern man has paid far more attention to Mars because, apart from Earth, Mars is the most likely planet to have life on it.

Ancient knowledge and naming

Mars has the Roman name of the classical god of war. This name in turn derives from the Greek name Ares for this god. (The traditional symbol of Mars is his shield and spear.) The ancient Egyptians simply called Mars Her Descher, or "the red one."[5] The Hindus call Mars Mangala, one of the Navagraha.[6] The Maya people also tracked Mars regularly.

Orbital characteristics

Mars is in a highly elliptical orbit around the Sun and maintains an average distance slightly more than 1.5 AU. The synodic period of Mars is roughly 26 months. This fact makes Mars a particularly difficult object to explore, because opportunities to launch a rocket probe to Mars occur so far apart in time.

Rotational characteristics

Mars' sidereal and solar days are only slightly longer than the days of earth. This fact has led long-term Mars mission planners to adopt a permanent system for keeping time "local" to Mars. The first mission to use this "Mars solar clock" was Viking 1 in 1976.[7]

Physical characteristics

Terrestrial planets: left to right - Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars

Mars is half the size of Earth and has about 11% of earth's mass. The large proportion of iron in Mars's clay-like topsoil gives Mars its distinctive color.

The weather on Mars is seasonal, on account of Mars's axial inclination. Yet because Mars's orbit is so eccentric, "summer" and "winter" on the northern and southern hemispheres can vary greatly. Temperatures vary from 140 K to 300 K, with an average temperature of 210 K. (The freezing point of water is 273.15 K.)


Mars' atmosphere is quite thin and has an average pressure of 6.36 mb or 0.636% of that of earth. Its chief components are 95.32% carbon dioxide, 2.7% nitrogen, 1.6% argon, 0.13% oxygen, and 0.08% carbon monoxide. In addition it has trace amounts of water (210 ppm), nitrogen oxide (100 ppm), neon (2.5 ppm), hydrogen-deuterium oxide (HDO) (0.85 ppm), krypton (0.3 ppm), and xenon (0.08 ppm). Winds on Mars vary in speed from 2-7 m/s in summer to 5-10 m/s in fall, though the Project Viking landers have recorded winds varying from 17-30 m/s during dust storms that have swept past the landing sites.[1]

Recent warming trends on Mars, including an apparent partial melt of the polar ice caps, have led at least one scientist to question the widely circulating theories of global warming on earth. Specifically, Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, asserts that the sun, and not any activity specific to the earth, must be responsible for any warming observed on either planet.[8]


Mars has a very weak magnetic field. Data from various missions has established an upper limit of 2.1 * 1018 N-m/T on the magnetic dipole moment of Mars. According to Russell Humphreys's model of the creation of magnetic fields, Mars probably had a magnetic dipole moment at creation of 1.51 * 1023 N-m/T. Thus Mars's magnetic field has been decaying very rapidly. This tremendous decay, and the presence on Mercury of a magnetic field of significant strength, baffles astronomers who have assumed that magnetic fields form on rapidly moving planets that have conductive and liquid cores that can act as dynamos. In fact, Humphreys asserts that the characteristic that determines which of the terrestrial planets will have a persistent magnetic field is the core radius, and that the cores of all four of these planets have similar conductivities. Mercury and Earth have larger cores than do Mars and Venus. The lengths of the sidereal days on those worlds do not matter.[3]


Mars has many more impact craters than does Earth, primarily because the atmosphere of Mars allows most meteorites to fall to Mars with most of their mass intact. Mars also has the highest mountain known to planetary science: Olympus Mons, which rises more than 21 km above the average ground level and has a diameter of 648 km.

Curiously, the two hemispheres of Mars differ markedly in their topography. The northern lands are of low elevation and are mainly volcanic, like the lunar seas. The southern lands are of high elevation and have most of the impact craters.[9]

Cydonia Mensae, home of the alleged "face on Mars."

Persistent rumors tell of a "face on Mars," allegedly located in the Cydonia Mensae region at coordinates 40.9°N and 9.45°W. This alleged "face" is located in the midst of several pyramids and other mountains. Prevailing opinion at NASA is that the "face" is a trick of the eye due to the unusual lighting conditions.[10]

Water on Mars

Multiple gullies in a south-facing wall in the Gorgonum Chaos region on Mars

Mars cannot have liquid water on its surface. The thin atmosphere does not permit this, even during high summer on Mars. Yet the Mars Global Surveyor mission in June 2000 took photographs of gully-like formations on several precipices and crater walls on Mars. These formations tend to occur between 30° and 70° north and south latitude. Mission analysts further suggest that these formations are relatively fresh and estimate that liquid water might be found less than 500 meters beneath the surface.[11]

More recently, NASA's latest mission, the Phoenix lander, has discovered what appears to be water ice very near the surface near Mars' north pole. Furthermore, analysis of a cubic meter of soil at this site reveals that the soil is far more alkaline than expected, and has tolerable levels of salt and low levels of calcium. Investigators have even suggested that the soil might support the growth of an Earth vegetable, like asparagus.[12]

Life on Mars

The possibility that extraterrestrial life exists on Mars has been the subject of persistent scientific speculation for decades. The earliest speculation concerned a possible civilization on Mars,[5] this after Percival Lowell theorized that the straight lines that several astronomers had seen on Mars were in fact artificial constructs, and specifically canals.[13] Lovell popularized his theory as early as 1906, and for a long time the suspicion of a non-human civilization native to Mars would find repeated expression in novels and dramatic presentations. Only with the first successful explorations of Mars would the scientific community, and the public, abandon that theory.

Current speculation concerns the possible finding of microbes. These would be extremophiles, or microbes that survive and even grow in environments lethal to other forms of life. Direct attempts to find such life began in 1976 with the Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers. To date no positive sign of life on Mars has been found. The Viking landers found evidence of unexplained chemical activity, but no clear evidence of microbes. Whether the Viking landers would have been able to detect extremophiles, a concept unknown to the Viking mission planners, is unclear.[5]

The astrobiologists involved with Project Viking suspect that Mars might be an inherently inhospitable environment for life. Ultraviolet light from the sun shines unchecked on Mars, on account of Mars' thin atmosphere and weak magnetic field. The soil of Mars is also very dry, and the soil has a high proportion of oxidizing agents.[5]

Problem for uniformitarian theories

The most formidable current problem that Mars poses for uniformitarianism today is that its magnetic field is weak and inconsequential, while a planet (Mercury) of little more than half its weight does have a significant magnetic field. According to current theory, planets derive their magnetic fields by dynamo action. This requires fast rotation and liquid cores. Mars and Earth have comparable sidereal days, but Earth's magnetic field is strong enough to protect Earth from the solar wind, while that of Mars is not. Mercury has a far longer sidereal day than Mars has, and yet Mercury has a significant magnetic field while Mars has none.

Young Mars Creation model.

Meridiani Planum region of Mars.

Discoveries by the Mars Excursion Rover Opportunity have led to a Young Mars Creation model of Martian geology. These discoveries combine with data from the rest of Mars to indicate a massive Martian catastrophe.

Since Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars it has sent back findings showing that the area was once underwater and that the water was vary acidic. This high concentration of sulfuric acid militates against this being a habitable sea. The entire Meridiani Planum region has much evidence of catastrophic flooding, including a clear inlet channel to the southeast and a splash zone in the north.

One oddity of Mars is that it contains the largest of three major geologic features in the Solar System. The largest impact basin, the largest volcanoes and the largest canyon are all found on Mars and in a clear relationship to each other. This relationship provides the key to understanding Martian geology.

Mars' global topography, and the relationship between the Hellas impact basin and the Tharsis volcanoes.
Mars’ largest impact basin is called Hellas. As shown in the topography map, on exactly the other side of Mars from Hellas is Mount Alba Patera, the largest volcano by surface area. This juxtaposition suggests that the Hellas impact caused the eruptions of Alba Patera and the volcanoes of the Tharsis plateau to the south and southwest. To the east is found the gigantic rift valley called Valles Marineris or the Mariner Valley.

These relationships indicate a major geologic catastrophe on Mars resulting in massive volcanic activity. The dating of this event from craters places it at about the time of Noah’s Flood on Earth. This volcanic activity would have increased Mars’s atmospheric pressure to allow liquid water to flow on the surface and thus allow the flooding of the Meridiani Planum region.

This shows that, like Earth, Mars has evidence that it is only a few thousands of years old and not 4.6 billion years old.[14]

Mars in popular culture

Mars has figured prominently in science fiction in the Western world for more than a century. The first and most famous novel about Mars portrayed the invasion of the Earth by an armed force from Mars bent on exterminating the human race and preparing Earth for colonization by Martians. The story ended with the invading Martians dying en masse after contracting infections against which they had no defense. This novel inspired a radio drama (1938), two motion picture projects (1957 and 2005), and a television series. The radio drama in particular, coming as it did when the public still accepted Percival Lowell's canal theory, so frightened those who listened to it that Mr. Orson Welles, the director and producer, ordered his staff to issue a mid-show disclaimer and then, after the show, personally assured his listeners that no such invasion as the one that he and his actors had portrayed had ever taken place.

On the other hand, the Christian author C. S. Lewis portrayed Mars as the home of a civilization of non-fallen peoples that would shortly surrender itself for final disposition by God, and was enjoined from all contact with Earth on account of the fallen nature of man. Secular authors often speculated on the existence of growing civilizations on Mars.

With the abandonment of the Lowell canal theory, science fiction authors and dramatists envisioned Mars as home to a human colony. But at least one motion-picture producer saw Mars as a place that very ancient astronauts had once visited and equipped with an apparatus for creating an atmosphere on Mars. In addition, two recent authors speculated about the finding of microbes on Mars, and the implications that such a discovery would hold for the Christian faith and the possible "back-contamination" of the earth when the crew that found the microbes returned to earth.

Observation and exploration

Observation of Mars has been ongoing since the ancients noted its existence and its movements. The invention of the telescope provoked the first serious study of Mars as a celestial object, and not a prophetic sign. Yet not all of this observation led to proper inferences. Percival Lowell's canal theory would lead to more than half a century of vain speculation on extraterrestrial civilization before the first successful exploratory missions would return evidence forcing the abandonment of that theory.

Mars has been the subject of more attempts to explore it, and more failures, than any other planet. Of approximately 37 separate missions to Mars, only 13 have had any success. The planetary scientists of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, so successful in exploring Venus, experienced ten mission failures before achieving their first success, seven years after the United States achieved success with its Visiting mission::Mariner 4 mission. That Soviet mission, Visiting mission::Mars 3 in 1971, succeeded in placing a lander on Mars, but the lander's system transmitted for only 20 seconds before failing.

In 1975, Project Viking achieved the most notable success by placing two orbiters (Visiting mission::Viking 1 orbiter and Visiting mission::Viking 2 orbiter) and two landers (Visiting mission::Viking 1 lander and Visiting mission::Viking 2 lander) on Mars. Neither nation would attempt any further missions to Mars until 1988, when the Soviets lost one craft en route and lost contact with the other (Visiting mission::Phobos 2 seconds after its rendezvous with Mars's inner moon Phobos. Nor was the United States' program immune to failure; its Mars Observer vessel was lost prior to arrival after some propulsion systems failed.[10]

In 1996 the Visiting mission::Mars Global Surveyor enjoyed the most success to date, returning more images than all previous missions combined. In that same year, the United States landed the first mobile explorer, or "rover," called the Visiting mission::Mars Pathfinder.

The United States would, unfortunately, lose the next two successive craft that it sent to Mars. But its Visiting mission::Mars Odyssey would arrive intact in 2001 and send back the first high-resolution images. Two years later the European Space Agency would successfully place its Visiting mission::Mars Express orbiter in the Martian system; sadly, its associated landing craft would crash-land. The Mars Express orbiter continues in orbit around Mars.[15]

360 degree panorama from mars rover Spirit.

The most successful missions to date have been the Visiting mission::Mars Excursion Rover missions. Two of these sophisticated mobile robots, named Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003 and arrived safely on Mars about six months later, on opposite sides of the planet. They have been running for four years now, at least fifteen times longer than they were warranted to run. The Opportunity rover has been taking pictures of the Victoria Crater, and Spirit has been photographing the Esperanza formation which contains "vesicular" basalt (characterized by multiple cavities representing dissolved gas escaping from solution during a volcanic eruption).[16]

On May 26, 2008, NASA placed a polar lander on Mars for the first time: the Visiting mission::Phoenix lander. As of June 28, 2008, the Phoenix lander is functioning well and has already discovered water ice where it rests. Preliminary data now suggest that the soil might be suitable for growing Earth vegetables.

At least one non-governmental group, calling itself the Mars Society, has been actively studying technologies appropriate to send a crew of from four to six astronauts to Mars for a roughly two-year stay.[17]



[[Satellite::{{#ask:Primary::Mars|link=none|limit=250|sep=| ]][[Satellite::}}| ]] {{#ask: Primary::Mars |?Periapsis#km=Periareion |?Apoapsis#km=Apareion |?Orbital eccentricity=Eccentricity |?Sidereal period#da=Sidereal month |?Inclination#° |?Lunar mass#M☾=Mass |?Sidereal day#h |format=table |mainlabel = Name |default = This body has no satellites. |intro = Table of satellites, in order from the innermost to the outermost: |sort=Semi-major axis |order=asc |}} {{#ask:Date of discovery::+Primary::Mars |?Date of discovery |?Discoverer |?Name origin |?Member of=Celestial class | sort=Date of discovery | order=ascending | format=timeline | timelinebands=DECADE,CENTURY | timelinesize=200px | timelineposition=end }}


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 Williams, David R. "Mars Fact Sheet." National Space Science Data Center, NASA, November 29, 2007. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Arnett, Bill. "Entry for Mars." The Nine 8 Planets, September 26, 2006. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Humphreys, D. R. "The Creation of Planetary Magnetic Fields." Creation Research Society Quarterly 21(3), December 1984. Accessed April 29, 2008.
  4. Calculated
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Hamilton, Calvin J. "Entry for Mars." Views on the Solar System, 2008. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  6. "Mangala." Windows to the Universe, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, University of Michigan, September, 2000. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  7. Allison, Michael, and Schmunk, Robert. "Technical Notes on Mars Solar Time as Adopted by the Mars24 Sunclock." Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA, May 20, 2008. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  8. Ravilious, Kate. "Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says." National Geographic News, National Geographic Society, February 28, 2007. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  9. Google Mars. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Williams, David R. "Frequently Asked Questions - Planetary - Mars." National Space Science Data Center, NASA, January 2, 2008. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  11. "MOC Images Suggest Recent Sources of Liquid Water on Mars." Malin Space Science Systems, June 22, 2000. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  12. "Scientists find soil on Mars good enough to grow asparagus." The Courier Mail, June 28, 2008. Accessed June 30, 2008.
  13. "The canals of Mars--historical note." Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA, n.d. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  14. Creager, Charles, Jr. "Mars, a Testament to Catastrophe." Answers Research Journal 1 (2008): 89–93. Accessed September 23, 2008.
  15. "Mars Express home page." European Space Agency. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  16. David, Leonard. "Mars Rovers: On the Roll to New Targets." December 28, 2006. Accessed May 27, 2008.
  17. The Mars Society global and USA portal. Accessed May 27, 2008.

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