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).
A valley the size of North America
An enormous system of canyons, the Valles Marineris stretches 2,600 miles (4,200 km) across the Martian surface and is up to 4.3 miles (7 km) deep. Placing it on Earth and into context, the Valles Marineris would span from New York to San Francisco and then some.
Mars' rotation around the sun
A Martian year is significantly longer than an Earth year (the time it takes to make one rotation of the sun). On Earth, we have 365 days whereas Mars has 687 days.
The Martian day is also longer, but only slightly. One Earth day is 23 hours and 56 minutes while one Martian day is 24 hours and 40 minutes. When we do land on Mars, it will be an easier transition than if we went to Jupiter (10 hour day) or Venus (2,802 hour day).
The atmosphere on Mars is 100 times less dense than our own, making landing spacecrafts on its surface tricky as the atmosphere does not help as much in slowing down their descent as it does on our blue planet. Despite this lack of density, it is still dense enough to permit weather and winds.
Mars experiences much greater temperature fluctuations than our own planet. Whereas the coldest it has gotten on Earth’s surface is -126° F (-88° C) and the hottest 136° F (58° C), Mars fluctuates between -284° F (-140° C) and 86° F (30° C). The average temperature on each is 57° F (14° C) on Earth and -81° F (-63° C) on Mars. That’s a cold planet!