Mars is the most similar to earth planet ever discovered. It measures 4,222 miles which is approximately 6794 kilometers in diameter as compared to earth which measures 7926 miles which is approximately 12756 kilometers. In comparison this translates to about 53% of the earth size.
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In terms of distance from the sun, the earth is located 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) away from the sun as compared to the mars which ranges from 128.43 million miles to 154.94 million miles from the sun. Britt (para.1) observes that this range is due to its non-circular orbit.
Earth is known to rotate on an axis tilted at 23.5 degrees as opposed to mars which tilted at 25 degrees. The earth’s revolution takes approximately 365 days while Mars takes 687 earth days or 670 mars days.
Mars atmosphere consists of a very thin layer of air which is mainly composed of carbon dioxide at 95.3%, 3% nitrogen, 1.6% argon and traces of oxygen at 0.15%. The planets’ temperature is freezing cold in most places over the better part of the year with the planet average of -81 degrees Fahrenheit (-63 degrees Celsius) with a maximum of 20° C (68° F) and a minimum of -140° C (-220° F). Its weather is mainly characterized by sandy dust storms.
These storms sometimes blanket the planet to near obscurity especially as it approaches the sun during revolution. Coriolis Effect, caused by the planets rotation deflects the winds making them to blow nearly parallel to the equator. In its northern pole, the planet is dominated by a vast ice cap composed of water ice and snow (Miles para.4).
However, the southern hemisphere has a tiny cap containing mainly dry ice. This ice builds up during winter and recedes during summer. Martian density is 3.94g/cm3 which is about 1% of the earth’s density.
The Martian Geology
Mars has 3 major large volcanoes which are all extinct. Due to their shield like shape, they are commonly referred to as shield volcanoes. The largest of them is called Olympus mons which measures 600km across its base and about 25km above the surrounding plain.
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These have long lava flows due to larger eruption rates and lower gravity. Among its many canyon systems is the Valles Marineris which spreads about 5000km, 500km in width and 6km in depth. These gigantic canyons were mainly formed by tectonic activity rather than erosion as is the case on earth.
It is impossible for liquid water to exist in Mars due to its low pressure. However according to Mars Express (para5.) recent discoveries have brought forward some evidence to support that liquid water once flowed on the Martin surface especially after discovery of gully deposits.
This suggests that the planets atmosphere may have been denser in the past for occurrence of liquid water to have been possible. Scientists have observed physical features that resemble riverbeds, shorelines, gorges and islands that suggest rivers once flowed in the red planet.
Channels measuring about 1500km long and 200km wide appear to have been curved out by running water. Most of the rocks on Mars’ mid latitude are basalt. Their red color is as result of a mineral called magnetite.
Opportunity rover on landing the Eagle’s crater and further on Endurance crater brought evidence supporting that water once flowed in mars. This points to the speculation by scientists that living organisms might be there too.
However due to its harsh atmosphere, intelligent life is not possible in the planet. With emerging evidence of water below the Martian surface, there could be simple living organisms in mars e.g. the sulfate reducing bacteria as Benton Clark III, a Mars Exploration Rover (MER) science team member suggested.
Mars express Orbiter also discovered residue water ice inside a 35 km wide crater and 2km depth (Mars Express para6.). However it will be useful to point out that as long as the search for liquid water remains elusive, it will be impossible building blocks that are necessary for life to exist.
Importance of Exploring Other Planets, Distant Systems and Outer Space
Exploration of these will provide humankind with an opportunity to test the possibility of life in other planets or outer space. There also exist compounds in other planets that could be useful to us. For example, carbon dioxide in mars might in future be used to fuel jet engines to other planets on their return trips.
Some planets are rich in various minerals that can be utilized for industrial; production and also research. Additionally, in order to understand the history of our planets origin, it is imperative to study the outer space.
Britt, Robert Roy, “The two planets weigh in”, Earth vs. Mars, Aug 2003.
Mars express, “Ice-covered Martian North Pole”, Mar 2009
Miles, Kathy, “The Martian atmosphere”, 1995-2008.