Mars 101 | The Key For A Bright New Future For Humanity

To the ancient Romans the planet Mars was symbolic of blood and war. But to many people today, the red planet may hold the key for a bright new future for humanity.

The story of Mars began about 4.5 billion years ago when gas and dust swirled together to form the fourth planet from the Sun. Mars is the second smallest planet in the solar system with a diameter just shy of the width of Africa. In fact its entire surface area is similar to that of all of Earth's continents combined.

Mars rotates at almost the same speed as the Earth so a day on Mars is about as long as a day on Earth. A day on Mars is 24.62 hours long while a day on Earth is 23.934 hours long. (

Much like its terrestrial cousin, Mars is dense and has a rocky composition. At the center of the planet is a core made of iron, nickel and sulphur which may have created a protective magnetic field during Mars's earlier years. 

The Earth zips around the Sun at about 67,000 miles per hour, making a full revolution in about 365 days – one year on Earth. Mars is a little slower, and farther from the sun, so a full circuit takes 687 Earth days – or one Mars year. (NASA)

Enveloping the core is a rocky mantle made of silicate minerals and a crust rich in iron. These iron minerals react with the trace amounts of oxygen and Mars's atmosphere and rusts. Giving the planet its signature reddish hue.

While its blood-like appearance inspired the ancient Romans to named Mars after their God of War. The planets rusty color could be considered symbolic of the planets prime days long past.

Today, Mars is dry desolate and cold with temperatures dropping as low as -225 degrees Fahrenheit (-142 degrees Celcius). But billions of years ago, the planet was much warmer more geologically active and had a watery surface. Lake beds and river valleys snake along the face of Mars indicating that liquid water was for a time, present.

Volcanoes such as Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system at three times the height of Mount Everest once erupted lava. But by about fifty million years ago, soon after Earth's dinosaurs died out, Mars's volcanoes also went extinct.

The first telescopic observation of Mars was by Galileo Galilei in 1610. Within a century, astronomers discovered distinct albedo features on the planet, including the dark patch Syrtis Major Planum and polar ice caps. (Wikipedia)

Water on the red planet still exists today but mostly in the form of polar ice caps. Because of factors such as the presence of water some scientists believe life may have existed on the Red Planet, and may exist again.

Since the 1960s, space programs from around the world have launched missions to Mars in attempts to understand the planet's past, present and potential for sustaining life.

Life on another planet may well be out of reach for the near future. But if any planet could give us hope, Mars may hold the key to the survival of humanity.

Source: National Geographic.

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