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Mars :: Planet Overview

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NASA scientists celebrated the successful landing of the Phoenix Mars Lander on May 31, 2008! Get the 411 on our mysterious neighbor!

What's in a Name?

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and was named after the Roman God of War. It is often referred to as the Red Planet because of the color it appears when viewed from earth. Many early civilizations associated Mars with its red color. Egyptians called it Her Descher which means The Red One.

All About Mars

People once thought that Mars was just like Earth but when astronomy became more advanced, we realized that isn't true. Mars is much smaller than Earth and is just the seventh largest planet. Mars has no water and is a very dry place. There are mountains and volcanoes but that's about it. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, named after the mythical horses that drew the War God's chariot. Deimos rises and sets twice a day. The two moons might actually be asteroids pulled in by Mars' gravity.

Mars has a volcano that's taller than any volcano on Earth. Olympus Mons is the tallest volcano in our solar system and is three times taller than Mt. Everest. Another interesting feature on Mars is the gigantic canyon, Vallis Marineris. This canyon is as long as the distance from New York to San Francisco.

Is There Life On the Red Planet?

Despite the fact that the word "Martian" comes from Mars, there is no life on Mars as far as we know. Scientists think that Mars once had water on it because of its physical geography (which has things that resemble riverbeds and canals). The Phoenix Mars Lander will hopefully end this mystery when it drills into the Red Planet to look for frozen water that may be below the surface.

Mars is a firey red colorMars is a firey red color

Fun Facts

  • Author Jonathan Swift gave reasonably accurate descriptions of Mar's two moons orbits in his book Gulliver's Travels. He did this about 150 years before either moon was discovered.
  • The average temperature on Mars is -63 C (-81 F). It can get as cold as -143 C (-220 F) and as hot as 20 C (68 F).
  • A day on Mars is 24 hours and 39 minutes which is very close to on Earth day.
  • A year on Mars is 685 Earth days.
  • The atmosphere of Mars is made of of mostly carbon dioxide.
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