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Martian Atmosphere Studies


Since the discovery of the existence of other physical bodies in the universe, scientists have spent most of their time in the laboratories looking for ways and means of critically studying these bodies. For that reason equipments have been made and signals placed in them to make it possible for the scientist to perceive what is taking place in the planets. One of the planets that raises curiosity of exploration is the fourth planet mars. With its closeness to the earth, scientist are doing all they can to probably make it a second home for human beings. Studies have been done and others are still being done to find out the many other mysteries of the planet.

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Introduction To Mars

Mars is the fourth planet in the solar system from the sun. It is one planet that has gained interest of scientists who have continued to explore it. The planet as observed from the earth appears to be red or orange. Its brightness varies due to its rotation. It can also disappear from being seen from the earth depending on the position of the sun. Mars can be viewed on a telescope to observe some of its prominent features. From the various researches conducted, it has been discovered that the red color of mars is due to presence of iron oxide. Due to its closeness to the earth, scientists usually navigate it with the aim of finding out how possible it is for living creatures to survive on it. The possibility of past existence of living creatures on mars is not yet clear, but mythically, it is believed that, there are intelligent beings called the Martians that send signals to the earth. Even though there are conditions that suggest life can be supported on mars, the conditions cannot allow the continuous existence of life. Studies are still underway to ascertain if ever was living things on mars. Just like the earth, mars have physical features like the moon, mountains, volcanoes, valleys, deserts and ice. Mars has been referred to as the red planet because it is red in color. It was also named ‘mars’ after the roman god of war.


Studies suggest that, mars once had a magnetic field and liquid water and it is believed a massive satellite may have caused tidal heating that melted its interiors, thus generating a magnetic field. This magnetic field protected the Martian atmosphere from the wind leaving the water to settle on the surface. The orbit of mars could have decayed due to tidal forces causing the whole crust to move to a more stable configuration, where the impact basin was found at the North Pole and the volcanoes close to the equator. With no tidal heating from the satellite, the magnetic field could not survive. The impact of the solar wind heating on the surface hinders the reformation of the atmosphere. During those stages of active chemical reactions and volcanic eruptions, life could be sustained on mars, but it is not clear whether there were any creatures or plants. Currently there is little evidence of eruptions and most of the volcanoes are extinct which make life impossible.

Characteristics of mars

In comparison to the earth, the radius of mars is half that of the earth, less dense and its surface area is lesser compared to the earths dry land. Compared to mercury, it has a lesser force of gravity due to its less density. Mars is reported to have volcanic plateaus and blue basins and its surface is mainly composed of basalt (Adams, 2007). Other studies reveal that, the surface is rich in silica which is similar to the andesitic rocks and iron (III) oxide. The magnetic field of mars faded away around four billion years ago because of the plate tectonics that took place on mars. Mars is about 1480km in radius with its interiors consist of iron sulfide which is partly fluid. The core which is covered by the silicate mantle contains inactive volcanoes and tectonic features. The geological history of mars can be described by the presence of epochs; the Noachian epoch is the oldest and is responsible for the formation of Tharsis bulge volcanic upland, the Hesperian epoch led to the formation of extensive lava plains, the Amazonian epoch led to the formation of Olympus Mons.

The soil on this planet contains minerals such as potassium, magnesium, chloride and sodium. These minerals contain the nutrients that can make living organisms to grow but due to the low atmospheric pressure on the surface of mars, there if no liquid water. However, ice is found in large quantities with the presence of two polar ice cups, one in the south and the other in the north. The geographical features of mars are characterized by the presence of several volcanoes like Olympus Mons which is the highest mountain on the solar system. These mountains are currently inactive and show little signs of erupting again. A number of craters have also been found each with a minimum diameter of five kilometers. The craters were formed many years ago when there was a still rapid chemical reaction on the planet. Canyon have been found on mars which include; Valles Marineris which is the largest of all, the Grand Canyon and the Ma’adin Vallis. The existence of these canyons promotes the evidence that mars once had liquid water on the surface.

Seven cave entrances have been found and named after their seven founders’ namely Dena, Chloe, Wendy, Annie, Abby Nikki and Jeanne. They are commonly referred to as the seven sisters (Adams, 2007). The caves have been estimated to be about seventy three to ninety six meters deep. However, due to the darkness on the lower surface, it is suspected that they may be deeper. This feature gives the scientist hope of finding living creatures and liquid water in them. The caves are yet to be explored extensively due to inadequate technology. The scientists hope to advance in this area and bring us more detailed information about the caves. The two polar ice caps of mars are Planum Boreum in the northern part and the Planum Australe in the southern region.

The atmosphere of mars is thin due to the absence of the magnetosphere that makes the wind to easily merge with the Martian ionosphere. The gravity on mars is thirty eight percent of the earth’s surface gravity. The concentration of carbon dioxide is ninety five percent, nitrogen is three percent and argon is one point six percent. There are little traces of oxygen and water. Methane has also been recorded to be present in mars but due to its unstable nature, its presence is an evidence of its recent occurrence.

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The Martian canals are some of the physical features that have been found to exist on the planet. They were discovered by an Italian astrologer Giovanni Schiaparelli in the nineteenth century using a resolution of telescopes. They were seen to be long straight lines on the surface (Rapp, 2007). The scientist gave them names according to the famous rivers of the earth. Due to these observations, it was believed that mars had water bodies and vegetations.


The climatic seasons on Mars are similar to those experienced on the earth surface. This has been due to the similar tilts of rotation that the two planets have. The lengths of the Martian seasons are double in comparison with the earths. This is because of the fact that the earth is closer to the sun than Mars. The seasons in the southern hemisphere are extreme compared to those in the north. What contributes to this is that, Mars is always closer to the perihelion during summer and closer to aphelion during winter in the southern hemisphere. Large dust storms have been recorded in mars which occur when the planet is closest to the sun and suspected to be the reason for the high increase in global temperature. Research has revealed that, the storms may occupy either a small area or even the entire planet.


Mars is approximately two hundred and thirty million kilometers away from the sun and it therefore takes six hundred and eighty seven earth days to rotate around its orbit. The axial tilt of mars is 25.9 degrees which is similar to that of the earth. The orbital eccentricity of mars is about 0.09 and its cycle is 96,000 earth years (Adams, 2007). It has been predicted that, the distance between earth and mars will decrease in the next 25,000 years.

Phobos and Deimos

Mars has two moons; Phobos and Deimos, which rotates closer to the planet. These moons were discovered in 1887 by Asaph Hall where names Phobos and Deimos stand for panic and terror respectively. They are believed to be the names of Ares’s, god of war, to mean two sons that accompanied him to war and Ares was mars according to the Romans. Compared to the moons on the earth, Phoebes rises in the west and sets in the east. It rises after every eleven hours while Deimos rises slowly from the east and takes almost three earth days to set and a longer time to rise again. The orbit of the Phoebes is below the synchronous altitude because it is lowered by the tidal forces. Hence, it is predicted that, in the next fifty million years, it will either crush on the surface of mars or break to form a ring around the planet.

Survival on mars

Due to the inability of the planet to contain liquid water, living creatures cannot survive on mars. However, in the past there were traces that proved flow of liquid water which would have made the creatures to survive. Mars has a very low concentration of oxygen, a factor that may limit survival of living creatures that depend on oxygen for respiration (Rapp, 2007). The absence of volcanic activity on the planet hinders the rotation of minerals within and at the surface of the earth. There is little transfer of heat on the surface of mars with insufficient atmospheric pressure and a poor insulation against the solar wind and other attacks. Mars also experiences dust storms which are very gigantic and can hinder the survival of life.

Evidences reveal that, Mars was once habitable by the living creatures yet it is not clear whether there were any living creatures on the planet. The presence of such nutrients as potassium, chloride, magnesium and sodium proves the ability of plants to grow. However, in order for them to survive, they had to be protected from the ultraviolet light. Methane that was recently discovered is an evidence of possible eruptions which is an indication of life on the planet.

Exploration of the planet

Most of the explorations to mars have failed for reasons that were related to loss of communication or technical complications. The first ever successful trip was NASA’s mariner 4 that was launched in 1964, in 1971 mariner 9 orbited mars and it was the first space probe to move around another planet. Mars 2 and mars 3 from the mars probe program were the first soviet probes to successfully land on the planet. These objects were launched in 1971, but when they were almost landing, they lost contact (Adams, 2007). In 1975, NASA launched the Viking program that had two orbiters with landers which successfully landed in 1976. Viking 1 remained in operation for six years and Viking two for three years. These landers displayed the first colors of the planet and mapped its surface which made the images recorded be useful up to date.

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Phobos 1 and 2 were released to explore mars with the aim of studying the two moons that were discovered. Unfortunately, Phobos 1 lost its network and Phobos two failed when it was just about to release two landers on the surface of Phobos moon. The mars global surveyor was launched in 1996; it successfully finished its mapping mission in 2001 but lost its contact in its third extended program. A month after the launch of the surveyor, the mars pathfinder was launched which had a Sojourner that landed in Ares Vallis during the summer season of 1997. Research shows that, many images were sent back to earth which made it receive a lot of publicity. Launched in august 2007, phoenix is the most recent NASA object to be sent (Rapp, 2007). It landed on the North Polar Region in May 2008 and had a microscopic camera and a robotic arm. These equipments were installed with the aim of collecting more vivid images from the planet with the aim accomplishing it in November 2008 when the engineers could not connect with the craft in space.

With availability of the orbiters and lander, it has become convenient to study astronomy from the Martian sky. The earth and the moon are visible, Phobos appears to be a third the size of the full moon and Deimos takes the shape of a star and appears brighter than the earth. Other objects that can be observed from mars include meteors and auroras. The actual color of mars is butterscotch yet it normally appears as reddish or orange due to the color of the atmosphere on the planet.

Mars and culture

Due to the reddish appearance of the planet, it has been associated with war. It has been named Nergal by the Babylonians after their deity of war, fire and destruction. To the Romans, Mars is the god of war. The Greeks also called the planet ‘pyroeis’ meaning fiery and the Hindus ‘mangala’ or ‘angaraka’ in Sanskrit who is a war god with the signs of Scorpio and Aries. The Egyptians call it ‘horus the red’, the Hebrews, ma’adim, ‘the one who blushes’ and as the fire star by the Koreans, Japanese, the Vietnamese and the Chinese (Adams, 2007). Mars is therefore worshipped by the many communities of the world who consider him as a god that can intervene on their behalf to give them victory in times of war.

The symbol of mars is usually a circle with an arrow from behind to act as a symbol of shield and spear used by the roman god of war and also a patron of fighters. In biology, it is a symbol of the male gender, an element of iron in alchemy and also the main element in the planet that causes its color to be red. In earlier years of the nineteenth century, there rose a speculation that mars was populated with a group of intelligent beings called the Martians that send signals to the earth. These speculations have created a lot of anxieties among the people who do not know what to believe.

Mars has also been a major attraction to the fiction world due to its red color and the speculation that there exist intelligent beings. In one of the scenario, it is ‘the war of the worlds’ in which the Martians invade the planet earth in order to secure their home which is mars (Rapp, 2007). Others include; the ‘Martian chronicles’, ‘Marvin the Martian’ and ‘Gulliver’s travels’. These and many more are the fictions that were written from the mystery of mars.

Future of Mars

Scientists are not yet through with their mission to explore the planet. There is much curiosity within them to make more discoveries about the planet and are determined to make people live on the planet by making the unfavorable conditions to be favorable. With the improving technology, scientists are applying similar technology to their equipments that will make the work of exploring the planet more convenient. NASA has announced the launch of a robotic mission by the name Maven in 2013 that will collect more information on the atmospheric pressure of mars.

In her vision for space exploration, the United States has launched the manned mars exploration which is part of her long term goal to explore the planet by sending human beings there by 2037. The ‘mars science laboratory’ is carrying out experiments to drill and study the rocks found on mars to find out their chemical compositions (Adams, 2007). It has also been discovered that there are more features on the planet that are yet to be identified. With intensive explorations, scientists hope to identify and study them.

The reports that have been collected concerning the planet have given different views which may be a bit confusing to the natural mind. Due to the different scientists carrying out the explorations and the different signals they use for observation, the results have always differed. With more explorations being made and others yet to be launched, we expect to receive more reports that may reveal something more different than what we have always known. With the advanced technology, orbiters, rovers and Landers will be made to be even more sophisticated. The future studies may hence give us more accurate pictures of the planet and the detailed information concerning its composition and make up. More scientist and equipments need to be employed in this continual exploration to clear the doubts and confusions in people’s minds concerning the planet. Recent improved technology need to be used in exploring mars so that valuable information can be obtained about it, in order to get a better understanding based on evidence that will be provided. (Adams, 2007)

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Adams L. Encyclopedia of the solar system: Academic Press, 2007 pp23-34.

Rapp D. Human Missions to Mars: Springer, 2007 pp12-26.

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