Our solar system is unique in its composition. With the brightest star, the sun, at the very core, this system comprises elliptical paths of planets and other celestial bodies. Planet Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun. The planet derives its name from that of the Roman god of war - Mars.
The 'red planet' has a high composition of iron oxide on its surface, and hence, flaunts a reddish appearance. Research reveals that it is a terrestrial planet. It has a thin atmosphere, replete with surface features such as impact craters, volcanoes, deserts, valleys, and even polar ice caps.
It is the home-site of Olympus Mons, the highest mountain in our solar system, as well as the largest canyon, Valles Marineris. Let us find out what Mars is really made up of.
- Mars exhibits rotational and seasonal cycles that are quite similar to those on Earth.
- The presence of ice and thus, of water, has generated ample support for the functional orbiting of the Mars Express, Mars Odyssey, Mars Global Surveyor, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Mars Exploration Rovers: Spirit, Opportunity, and Phoenix lander.
- Earlier, photographs by the Mariner 4 probe, in 1965, displayed images that resembled liquid water on the Martian surface. Later research revealed that the water bodies were optical illusions formed on account of straight line features.
- The planet still remains the only planet believed to be able to harbor liquid water, and possibly, life.
- Phobos and Deimos are the two moons of this planet. They are small and irregularly-shaped satellites that could be 'captured' asteroids.
- It is the only planet that can be seen easily with the naked eye, in the Earth sky.
- It displays a magnitude of -2.9 and a radius that is half that of the Earth. Nevertheless, this planet is less dense than our home planet, since it has only about 11% of Earth's mass and 15% of its volume.
- Generated facts reveal a surface area that is slightly lesser than all the land area on Earth.
- It gets its reddish orange appearance from the high iron(III) oxide surface-content, also referred to as hematite or rust.
- There is evidence of silica content too, similar to the composition of the andesitic rocks found back home.
- This planet does not have an intrinsic magnetic field, but its crust does bear evidence of past magnetization and alternating polarity reversals. The resultant paleomagnetism is displayed in the form of plate tectonics and cessation of the planetary dynamo.
- Orbital observations reveal that its surface composition is mainly basalt.
- Most of the planet's core region comprises iron and about 17% sulfur. The iron sulfide core is molten and displays twice the concentration of all the lighter elements within the Earth's core.
- There is a silicate mantle around the core, believed to be the result of the planet's tectonic and volcanic features that are now inactive.
The surface composition comprises slightly alkaline soil, rich in magnesium, chloride, sodium, and potassium. The presence of these nutrients lead to the presumption that the soil here is conducive to the growth of living organisms.
Dedicated pH tests conducted reveal salt perchlorate traces. The planet's low atmospheric pressure rules out the possible availability of liquid water on the surface. Scientists believe that there are large quantities of water trapped beneath the planet's thick cryosphere.
The rough surface texture scales, thermal inertia, and hydro-volcanic cones correspond to the researched lava flow hypothesis. Surface studies reveal giant flood channels, tree-like tributary networks,weathering processes, seepage gullies, carbon dioxide frost, and movement of dust.
Mars is believed to have lost its magnetosphere approximately 4 billion years ago. This resulted in a direct impact of solar winds upon the Martian ionosphere. Ionized atmospheric particles are still observed trailing off the planet, making the surface atmosphere relatively thin.
Atmospheric pressure varies from 0.03 kPa to above 1.155 kPa, with a mean surface level pressure of 0.6 kPa. This planet also displays a gravity that is only around 38% that of the Earth. The composition of the atmosphere comprises:
- Carbon dioxide: 95%.
- Nitrogen: 3%.
- Argon: 1.6%.
- Methane: 30 ppb by volume.
- Oxygen and water: trace amounts.
The atmosphere here allows a temperature of below -200ºF at high altitudes and -40ºF on the surface. Atmospheric temperatures are regulated by the dust blowing around. The dust absorbs sunlight and regulates the temperatures of the atmospheric gases. Thin clouds are observed within the Martian atmosphere, comprising frozen carbon dioxide.
The wind pattern observed display speeds of about 10 kilometers per hour. Today, dedicated research is being conducted to study the evolution of this planet, after it formed nearly 4.5 billion years ago and various other surface features, in pursuit of the belief that there is a possibility of life here.