Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, 142 million miles from its star. It is approximately half the size of Earth, and twice the size of Earth’s moon. Its year comprises 687 days, with one day lasting 24 hours and 37 minutes. Check out this MARS educational leaflet created by ASDC which will be distributed to visitors at exhibitions in the UK.
Water on Mars
There is liquid water underground on Mars! In 2018, the ‘Mars Express’, built by the European Space Agency (ESA), and currently orbiting Mars, detected a large liquid water lake about 20km wide below the southern polar ice cap.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that billions of years ago, the climate, atmosphere and surface of Mars was very different to what we see today, with all the ingredients necessary for life. There may even have been a liquid water ocean covering nearly a third of the planet’s surface.
Is there Life on Mars?
Humans have not yet been to Mars, but ESA, NASA and some other companies are planning to send people one day.
However we have sent robotic missions to explore Mars, like NASA’s car-sized ‘Curiosity Rover’ which has discovered organic molecules in rocks that were formed 3 billion years ago. Missions to Mars have also detected methane in the atmosphere. These organic molecules could be created by the planet’s geology or other processes, but are also often associated with life. ESA’s ‘ExoMars’ programme is sending a rover to Mars to explore beneath the surface for the first time. The rover is called the Rosalind Franklin Rover, named after the pioneering female British scientist. A unique aspect of this rover is its 2m drill, which can investigate the layers of rock below the surface. The rover will search here for signs of life which may have been protected from the extreme surface radiation.
Mars is an extreme and inhospitable world: it is very cold, with an average temperature around -60°C. And it is dry. Although there may be some very temporary, very salty liquid water on the surface, Mars is a planet-wide desert. The vast majority of all water is frozen as ice beneath the surface. With an atmosphere 100 times thinner than Earth’s, no ozone layer and no magnetic field, the surface of Mars is bombarded by radiation that is damaging to life as we know it.
However some life on Earth can withstand extreme cold, acid, massive radiation and the vacuum of space. We are learning more about possible Martian life by discovering ‘extremophile’ (extreme-loving) organisms that can survive and thrive in the most challenging environments on Earth.
Mars in Culture
Mars has long been known as the Red Planet. Its orangey-red surface inspired the Ancient Romans to name the planet after their god of war. The two small Martian Moons, Phobos and Deimos, were discovered in 1877 by American astronomer Asaph Hall. Phobos (meaning fear) and Deimos (meaning panic) were the horses that pulled the chariot of the Greek war god, Are. The Babylonians named the planet Nergal after their god of fire, war and destruction. In Sanskrit it takes the name Angaraka, another war god; the Egyptians knew it as Horus the Red; and the Hebrew name was Ma’adim – the one who blushes, which gives its name to Ma’adim Vallis, a 435-mile long outflow channel, larger than our Grand Canyon. Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures refer to Mars as the fire star.
British composer Gustav Holst’s The Planets casts Mars as the Bringer of War and inspired the Star Wars movie theme for Darth Vadar’s Theme, The Imperial March. David Bowie’s celebrated Life on Mars featured on his 1971 album, Hunky Dory, and was followed the next year by The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
HG Wells’ 1897 Martian invasion of Surrey, The War of the Worlds imagined a terrestrial conflict with aliens, which reflected on contemporary ideas about evolutionary biology, Darwinism and British Colonialism. Steven Spielberg made a film adaptation in 2005 starring Tom Cruise, but it was Orson Welles radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds which caused a social panic across the US when it was broadcast on 30 October 1938.
MARS music composition by Dan Jones.
This new score plays with the sculpture of Mars in the space.