Mars: the red planet, the last of the terrestrial planets, and our greatest hope for sustaining life beyond our own planet (so far anyways). Ever since Egyptian astronomers first discovered Mars in the heavens, humanity has been fascinated by the nearby planet. At a time just over 100 years ago, we even believed intelligent life much like our own lived on the planet’s cratered surface. Though we often hear the planet is quite similar to Earth, it’s also radically different. These differences will provide some serious challenges for landing a human mission there and sustaining life, challenges which we’ve brought up among these facts on Mars. Whether you’ve always been fascinating by space and the planets or you’re just looking to learn a bit more about our second closest planet, this list is just what you need to get up to speed. From how the planet got its name to its fearsome dust storms to the question of “Is there really organic life on Mars?”, we’ve dug into the red planet’s history to bring you these 25 Unique Facts About Mars: Earth’s Mysterious Cousin. Speaking of planets, have you checked out our 25 Curious Facts Concerning Pluto: The Demoted Planet? (we know, it’s no longer a planet).
Mars: Earth's cousin
Bearing a similar tilt to Earth – Mars has a 25° tilt while our planet has a 23.5° tilt – Mars also experiences the same four seasons, though they are more extreme.
The red planet’s seasons are much longer than ours. Due to Mars’ elliptical orbit, spring and summer are longer in its northern hemisphere while fall and winter are longer in the southern. They are also more intense with hotter summers and colder winters.
Could we breathe on Mars?
Though the red planet is often cited as a potential second Earth, we would not be able to breathe in its atmosphere made up of 96% carbon dioxide and less than 0.2% oxygen. Earth’s 21% oxygen is right about where we need to be. Scientists are currently testing microbes that can be sent ahead of humans to begin converting and creating oxygen on the planet.
The first assumption of life on Mars
In the last quarter of the 19th century, astronomers generally believed intelligent life was living on Mars. Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli noticed relatively straight lines on the Martian surface which he and other astronomers of the time believed were irrigation canals constructed by intelligent beings. As telescopes developed in the early 20th century, this assumption was proved wrong – though not before giving birth to plenty of sci-fi about the red planet, including Marvin the Martian.
How Mars got its name
Mars’ surface is rich in iron, giving it a reddish color. This composition has led to cultures as far back as the Egyptians naming it after the color. The Egyptians named it Her Desher (“the red one”), the Chinese named it “fire star”, and the Romans named it Mars, after their god of war (equivalent to Ares in Greek mythology).