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The Red Planet

  • The Red Planet Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and is named after the Greek god of war. It is also called the red planet because it glows red in the sky. The presence of rust (iron oxide) on its surface gives the planet its colour. Quick Q’s: 1. Can you see Mars from the Earth? On a clear night, Mars can be observed with the naked eye. Between July and September the Martian surface can be observed clearly through a telescope. 2. How many moons does Mars have? Mars has two moons called Phobos and Deimos, which orbit very closely to its surface. Both moons are believed to be asteroids that were captured by the gravity of Mars as they came close to it. 3. Is there life on Mars? The atmosphere of Mars is 95 per cent carbon dioxide, 3 per cent nitrogen and 1.6 per cent argon. Traces of oxygen and water have also been found. Some scientists have claimed to have found traces of methane. This gave rise to the speculation that there may be life on Mars, since methane is a gas produced by many animals. But other scientists pointed out that methane is also produced by the mineral olivine, which can be found on Mars. Q What is the surface of Mars like? A The surface of Mars is divided into the northern plains flattened by lava flows, and the southern highlands marked by huge craters. The planet boasts Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system. Q Is there water on Mars? A Scientists have found signs of water in rock layers. In 2006, the scientists saw new deposits of sediment on the surface of Mars. These sediments had not been there six years earlier. According to scientists at NASA, this is the strongest evidence so far that water still flows occasionally on the surface of Mars, though other scientists say the sediments could have been deposited by carbon dioxide frost or movement of dust. Samples of the minerals haematite and goethite have also been found in Mars. These minerals are sometimes formed in the presence of water. 16 The scientists have also found signs of frozen water near the South Pole of Mars. It is believed that huge floods flowed through Mars about 3.5 billion years ago. The water from the floods may have once collected in huge basins. Q Why are seasons on Mars longer than on Earth? A Mars and Earth are tilted on their axis in the same way. Therefore, Mars has almost the same kind of seasons as Earth. However, because a Martian year is equal to two years on Earth, each Martian season lasts twice as long as the seasons on Earth. Q What kind of weather would you find on Mars? A The temperature varies from -140 to 20 °C (-220 to 68 °F). The polar ice caps on Mars increase and decrease in size alternately in winter and summer. Mars also has dust storms, which can cover the entire planet. Olympus Mons The tallest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons towers 27 kilometres (16.88 miles) above the surface of Mars. Look out for Mars From 27 August 2006, Earth and Mars have been closer to each other than they have been in the last 60,000 years! It has begun to appear brightly in the night sky, as seen here while looking south-east from Poodle Rock in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA. Now Mars will be the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon and Venus.