ology logo
card
051

Mars

OLogy Series
place
card
051

Mars

OLogy Series
place

Mars is often called the "red planet." It's red because its surface is covered with rusted particles of iron. Like the Earth, Mars has polar ice caps, mountains, craters, plains, canyons, and summer and winter seasons. Scientists think that liquid water once flowed on the surface of Mars when it was warmer. But today there are no signs of life or water on Mars' rocky surface.

Take me to your leader
For hundreds of years, people have been wondering if there is life on other planets. Did you ever hear about Martians? In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported seeing many straight lines crisscrossing the planet, which he named "canali," or natural channels. People in English-speaking countries let their imaginations run wild, and began to think that there were manmade canals on Mars. Could there have been little creatures rowing around in boats on these canals? Later, American astronomer Percival Lowell devoted his career to mapping what he believed were a network of irrigation canals on Mars. He thought these "canals" were for bringing water to farms, but his vision of intelligent aliens at work on Mars was proven to be 100 percent incorrect.

Space probes have proved that the "canals" Lowell mapped really don't exist. Some of these surface features were really long channels where water may have flowed across the Martian landscape, but not to farms.

Scientists were surprised when the Mars Global Surveyor satellite sent back photos that looked like:

dry riverbeds

clouds

long highways

Are you right?

Correct!

This photograph shows a riverbed that could have been carved out by flowing water in the past few million years. Since life needs liquid water to exist, we have to wonder if some evidence of life may turn up, too.

In 2003, NASA is sending two field geologists to Mars to study the history of its rocks.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

NASA is sending two mechanical "geologists" to Mars, but they will be robots. The twin rovers will look for evidence of water at two different sites on Mars.

Location: 4th planet from Sun
Diameter: 4,200 miles
Number of Moons: 2
Average Distance from Sun: 140,000,000 miles
Average Surface Temperature: summer 32 degrees F, winter -150 degrees F
Orbital Period: 687 days
Characteristics: volcanoes and deep canyons cover this red planet's rocky surface

Image credits: courtesy of JPL/MSSS, and NASA.