Mars is the 4th planet closest to the Sun and the 2nd smallest in our solar system, and has been known for centuries as the Red Planet. This mysterious planet has intrigued sky watchers for centuries. It shines brightly when closest to the Earth, moving quickly in front of the stars, and it has a bright reddish color. Less than a century ago, many people believed in Martians and the possibility of finding some life forms living on the planet.
Mar’s atmosphere is primarily made up of carbon dioxide with nitrogen and small amounts of other gases. Roughly half the surface of Mars surface shows signs of past volcanic activity. The volcanic mountain Olympus Mons which is about 340 miles wide and rises 14 miles above the Martian plain, it is the highest peak in the solar system. Elsewhere on Mars, there are winding valleys caused by ancient riverbeds.
The color of Mars sky comes from wind-borne dust blown from the reddish surface. Earlier in the planets history, when it was warmer and damp, the iron-rich surface rusted turning Mars into the red planet.
The planet is named after Mars, the god of war from Roman mythology and was the father of Romulus and Remus, thus being the guardian of the Romans.
Mars was first observed with a telescope was Galileo Galilee, and, astronomers after him discovered its polar ice caps.
Mars has two moons; Phobos and Deimos, which were discovered in 1877 by American astronomer Asaph Hall. Phobos is larger and closer to the planet than Deimos.
The planet is approximately 4,217 miles in diameter, and is 0.11 times the size of Earths mass. It is also 35 million miles from Earth. The length of a year on Venus equals 687 Earth days, and a day lasts approximately 24.37 Earth hours.
Robotic spacecraft began to observe Mars with the US launching Mariner 4 in 1964 , followed by Mariner 6 and 7 in 1969. In 1971, Mariner 9 orbited Mars, mapping about 80 percent of the planet and discovered volcanoes and canyons to be present.
The first successful landing on the red planet surface was NASA's Viking 1 which landed in 1976, and was the first successful landing on the Red Planet. The craft took the first close-up photographs of the surface, of the planet, but found no evidence for life.
The next two craft to successfully reach Mars were the lander Mars Pathfinder, a lander, and an orbiter Mars Global Surveyor, both launched in 1996. A small wheeled robot on board Pathfinder called Sojourner, was the first rover to explore the surface of another planet and ventured over the planet's surface to analyze rocks.
In 2001, the United States launched the Mars Odyssey probe, which discovered large amounts of water ice underneath the surface.
In 2003, NASA launched two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which explored different regions of the Martian surface, and both found water underneath the surface. In 2008, NASA sent another mission, Phoenix, to also confirm the existence of water.
On November 26, 2011, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory launched the Mars Curiosity a car-sized rover, it successfully landed on the surface on August 6 2012.
As of April 19th 2013, the Mars Colony 2023 Project, from the Netherlands, announced that they will begin recruiting astronauts for a one-way trip to colonize Mars in July 2013 and also announced that the travel date to Mars to be on April 24th, 2023.