Some REAL Facts
About Our Favorite Red Planet
* The Terrain * The Weather *
* The Moons of Mars * Big Pictures of Mars *
|What's In a Name?
Here's a bit of trivia for you.
Mars was a Roman god originally associated with agriculture. When the Romans went through their "Anything Greek is Great" phase, he was officially (that is, "legally") identified with Ares, the Greek god of war. Pretty much everything associated with the "Old Mars" - from rituals to his role in state functions - was either surpressed or removed from all official canons in favor of the new god. Even "Ares" got a facelift out the deal: changing from what Zeus described as "the worst of his children" (as well as a bit of a coward in the old Greek myths) into a "noble warrior", and a more fitting image for the emerging Roman Empire.
Go read the Martian Manhunter history page again.
Synchronicity's a strange thing, no?
The TerrainMars is not like Earth. No, really. Not like it at all.
First, there's the land itself: dry, all the water (if there's any around at all) is either locked way, way, WAY below the surface or trapped in the icefields of the poles. (And You-Know-Who lives THERE.)
Most of the mountains are volcanic. The largest mountain, Mons Olympus, dwarfs anything Earth has to offer - three times the size of Mount Everest, or so they say. Here and there magma boils to the surface and stretches the land into weird humps and blisters.
While the Earth's crust is separated into many "plates" that float about on a layer of molten rock, the surface of Mars is apparently one smooth piece. The good news is that the planet seldom suffers from earthquakes. On the downside, the entire surface of Mars appears to "slip" (I kid you not) around it's core, like a metal cover around a greased ball-bearing. Mercifully, this doesn't happen too often, once every few billion years or so, but the effects on the wildlife (if there was any) would be devastating.
The "canals" of Mars are actually canyons that make the Grand Canyon look like a drainage ditch. Some of these pits are so deep that some speculate the air pressure increases to Earth-normal at the bottom (probably an uncomfortable sensation for a Green or a Pale Martian).
Loose sandy stretches are broken up with fields of rocky tundra-like terrain (called "chaotic terrain"). Impact craters from meteorites are common sights, made by objects ranging in size from a few inches to 50 Kilometers!
It's also notable that Mars has virtually no magnetic poles. I have no idea how NASA discovered this, but that's what they say.
When I was little, a teacher told us that the surface of Mars was red because of its high iron content - literally, the planet was red with rust. I've never been able to confirm or deny this, and the reddish brown soil could be caused by any number of things other than iron oxide.
The WeatherThe air on Mars is thin - so weak that the surface pressure is less than 1% what it is on Earth. That means that a critter has to fight just to hold together and not rupture like a soap-bubble (well, probably they wouldn't burst that dramatically, but it wouldn't be fun for you or me, that's for sure). No wonder Martians are so freakin' durable!
Another joyful aspect of this thin air is that there's no heavy atmosphere to burn up tiny meteorites. So, if a Martian sees a falling star, he doesn't make a wish ---he RUNS!
I don't care what you say: super-strength or not, being hit by a meteorite would probably finish you off . Or hurt. Lots.
The weather is either really warm or deathly cold - ranging from -40 degrees Celsius to 27 degrees Celsius, depending upon the season. (For you non-metric types, 27 feels like a very hot summer day. As for -40, well, water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius. At -40, you die.) At the poles, this drops to a killing -133 degrees C. --cold enough to freeze the carbon dioxide in the air to ice! This is partly why the temperature varies so much on Mars: there are no "greenhouse gases" to hold the heat. Most of them are frozen at the poles, so when the sun is gone, there goes your warmth.
Liquid water, if left exposed to the equatorial winter night air, would "boil" away violently, although it might survive throughout the daylight hours if it was mild enough outside.
Another "fun" part of Martian weather is the "rain" - during the day the dry air sucks water from the polar icecaps, along with sand and grit, and then it freezes at night, falling as shards and pellets of ice. Hail from Heck!
On a happier note, just before a bout of "Hard Rain", the sky usually turns from the usual salmon-pink to a blue-black shade. The ice clouds suddenly form, looking like silvery, glittering sheets waving across the sky. Pretty!
Then it falls and takes your puny human skin off.
Not so pretty.
Sandstorms that cover areas the size of Canada are frequent and surprisingly predictable -- they tend to always move in the same direction from the same location. Most of them start in the south polar region, swirl up into a mega-hurricane, then cruise across the desert sandblasting everything in their path. Some sections of Mars' surface are entirely missed by the sandstorm patterns, others get hit every time. So far, I've never seen a reasonable explanation why the storm patterns should be so predictable.
There used to be water on Mars - lots of water. The beds of empty seas and rivers can be seen arcing across the surface of the planet. It also appears that eons ago much of the water suddenly (in geographical terms mind you, "suddenly" can mean centuries) started to flow north and never came back again. Again, nobody's sure why.
The Moons of MarsThere's two "Moons of Mars" - the smallest moons in the Solar System. They were probably meteors or some other chunk of drifting rock that got caught in Mars' gravitational field.
We call them Phobos and Deimos - meaning "Fear" and "Panic" respectively. I have no idea what the Martians called them. They usually look like really, really bright stars that get bigger or smaller, instead of waxing and waning like our moon does, although they probably do occasionally fall into Mars' shadow and "disappear" from time to time (they'd be too small to gradually slip into the shadow like our own moon does).
Phobos sports a huge impact crater - large enough to have little impact craters inside it.
Some Big Pictures of MarsA View of One Polar Icecap of Mars - It just screams "Pale Martians Live Here", doesn't it? (I believe it's the south pole - the larger of the two icecaps - even though all the water seems to have spilled northward at some point. If that's the case then I have no idea why the south has the larger icecap. It's just another one of those Martian enigmas.)
The "Canals of Mars" - This picture suggests that there might once have been water in it. The frayed bit on the left-hand end of this massive canyon has a fancy latin name that translates as "The Night Maze". Neat, eh?
Mars, the Red Planet - A nice planetary portrait, showing ice at the poles.
Martian "Tundra" - A picture taken by the infamous "Martian Lander". This is actually the surface of another planet, folks! Oooooo!