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Posted by bender 03/06/2009 @ 20:15

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Mars rover Spirit is stuck in sand - Los Angeles Times
By John Johnson Jr. The long-lived rover Spirit is stuck in the sand on Mars, and controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge are scrambling to find a way to extricate the vehicle before it becomes entombed on the Red Planet....
Space Station, Next Mars Rover Shine in 3-D -
NASA teamed up once again with Microsoft to offer online users two new three-dimensional, interactive tours – one of the orbiting outpost and another of the next Mars rover. Space enthusiasts can see and interact with photos of the station and the...
Liquid saltwater is likely present on Mars, new analysis shows - Turkish Press
ANN ARBOR - Salty, liquid water has been detected on a leg of the Mars Phoenix Lander and therefore could be present at other locations on the planet, according to analysis by a group of mission scientists led by a University of Michigan professor....
Free chocolate from Mars Snackfood - Los Angeles Times
Each week, Mars Snackfood US will host Free Chocolate Fridays starting at 9 am (EDT) until 11:59 pm The first 250000 people to register at during that period will receive a coupon for a free, full-size chocolate bar....
NASA: Sucks or Rocks? - DVICE
Let's lay out positives and negatives about NASA, and then we'll invite a discussion about the future of the storied space agency as it approaches another turning point: the end of the Shuttle and the beginning of a new era of Moon and Mars exploration...
Mars launches new limited-edition M&M'S and Snickers products - Trading Markets (press release)
May 12, 2009 (Datamonitor via COMTEX) -- HAS | Quote | Chart | News | PowerRating -- Mars Snackfood US has announced the availability of limited-edition M&M'S Strawberried Peanut Butter Chocolate Candies and Snickers Nougabot Bar....
NASA Earth System Science Meeting Celebrates 20 Years of Discovery - PR Newswire (press release)
WASHINGTON, May 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Twenty years ago NASA embarked on a revolutionary new mission for its Earth science program: to study our home planet from space as an inter-related whole, rather than as individual parts....
Ensign Extends Iowa Trip - Washington Post
He will now also make a stop in Sioux Center to tour Trans Ova Genetics and will host a meet and greet at the Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor on Le Mars, which, as any good political junkie knows, is the ice cream capital of the United States....
"Supergiant" Asteroid Shut Down Mars's Magnetic Field - National Geographic
A "supergiant" asteroid several times larger than the one that likely killed the dinosaurs struck Mars with such force that it shut down the planet's magnetic field, scientists say. Based on the number of large craters present, scientists think very...
Cherokee golfers 4th at Le Mars - Chronicle Times
LE MARS - The Cherokee Braves golf team placed fourth in the competitive Le Mars Invitational Golf Meet here Saturday, carding a team score 334 in the 18-hole competition. Sheldon won the Meet with a 325, followed by South Sioux City, Neb....

Exploration of Mars

Computer-generated image of one of the two Mars Exploration Rovers which touched down on Mars in 2004.

The exploration of Mars has been an important part of the space exploration programs of the Soviet Union (later Russia), the United States, Europe, and Japan. Dozens of robotic spacecraft, including orbiters, landers, and rovers, have been launched toward Mars since the 1960s. These missions were aimed at gathering data about current conditions and answering questions about the history of Mars. The questions raised by the scientific community are expected to not only give a better appreciation of the red planet but also yield further insight into the past, and possible future of Earth.

The exploration of Mars has come at a considerable financial cost with roughly two-thirds of all spacecraft destined for Mars failing before completing their missions, with some failing before they even begin. Such a high failure rate can be attributed to the complexity and large number of variables involved in an interplanetary journey, and has led researchers to jokingly speak of The Great Galactic Ghoul which subsists on a diet of Mars probes. This phenomenon is also informally known as the Mars Curse. As of February 2009, there are two functioning pieces of equipment (both American) on the surface of Mars beaming signals back to Earth: the Spirit rover and the Opportunity rover.

Mars has long been the subject of human fascination. Early telescopic observations revealed color changes on the surface which were originally attributed to seasonal vegetation as well as apparent linear features which were ascribed to intelligent design. These early and erroneous interpretations led to widespread public interest in Mars. Further telescopic observations found Mars' two moons - Phobos and Deimos, the polar ice caps and the feature now known as Olympus Mons, the solar system's tallest mountain. These discoveries piqued further interest in the study and exploration of the red planet. Mars is a rocky planet, like Earth, that formed around the same time, yet with only half the diameter of Earth, and a far thinner atmosphere, it has a cold and desert-like surface. It is notable, however, that although the planet has only one quarter of the surface area of the Earth, it has about the same land area, since only one quarter of the surface area of the Earth is land.

Like the outbound launch windows, minimum energy inbound (Mars to Earth) launch windows also occur at intervals of 780 (Earth) days.

In addition to these minimum-energy trajectories, which occur when the planets are aligned so that the Earth to Mars transfer trajectory goes halfway around the sun, an alternate trajectory which has been proposed goes first inward toward Venus orbit, and then outward, resulting in a longer trajectory which goes about 360 degrees around the sun ("opposition-class trajectory"). Although this transfer orbit takes longer, and also requires more energy, it is sometimes proposed as a mission trajectory for human missions.

The Marsnik program, was the first Soviet unmanned spacecraft interplanetary exploration program, which consisted of two flyby probes launched towards Mars in October 1960, Marsnik 1 and 2 dubbed Mars 1960A and Mars 1960B (also known as Korabl 4 and Korabl 5 respectively). After launch, the third stage pumps on both Marsnik launchers were unable to develop enough thrust to commence ignition, so Earth parking orbit was not achieved. The spacecraft reached an altitude of 120 km before reentry.

Mars 1962A a Mars fly-by mission, launched on October 24, 1962 and Mars 1962B a lander mission, launched in late December of the same year both failed from either breaking up as they were going into Earth orbit or having the upper stage explode in orbit during the burn to put the spacecraft into the Mars trajectory.

Mars 1 (1962 Beta Nu 1) an automatic interplanetary station launched to Mars on November 1, 1962 was the first probe of the Soviet Mars probe program. Mars 1 was intended to fly by the planet at a distance of about 11,000 km and take images of the surface as well as send back data on cosmic radiation, micrometeoroid impacts and Mars' magnetic field, radiation environment, atmospheric structure, and possible organic compounds. Sixty-one radio transmissions were held, initially at two day intervals and later at 5 days in which a large amount of interplanetary data was collected. On 21 March 1963, when the spacecraft was at a distance of 106,760,000 km from Earth, on its way to Mars, communications ceased, due to failure of the spacecraft's antenna orientation system.

In 1964, both Soviet probe launches, of Zond 1964A on June 4, and Zond 2 on November 30, (part of the Zond program), resulted in failures. Zond 1964A had a failure at launch, while communication was lost with Zond 2 en route to Mars after a mid-course maneuver, in early May 1965.

The USSR intended to have the first artificial satellite of Mars beating the planned American Mariner 8 and Mariner 9 martian orbiters. But on May 5, 1971 Cosmos 419 (Mars 1971C), a heavy probe of Soviet Mars probe progam M-71, failed on launch. This spacecraft was designed as an orbiter only while the second and third probes of project M-71, Mars 2 and Mars 3, were multi-aimed combinations of orbiter and lander.

In 1964, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory made two attempts at reaching Mars. Mariner 3 and Mariner 4 were identical spacecraft designed to carry out the first flybys of Mars. Mariner 3 was launched on November 5, 1964, but the shroud encasing the spacecraft atop its rocket failed to open properly, and it failed to reach Mars. Three weeks later, on November 28, 1964, Mariner 4 was launched successfully on a 7½-month voyage to the red planet.

Mariner 4 flew past Mars on July 14, 1965, providing the first close-up photographs of another planet. The pictures, gradually played back to Earth from a small tape recorder on the probe, showed lunar-type impact craters.

NASA continued the Mariner program with another pair of Mars flyby probes, Mariner 6 and 7, at the next launch window. These probes reached the planet in 1969. During the following launch window the Mariner program again suffered the loss of one of a pair of probes. Mariner 9 successfully entered orbit about Mars, the first spacecraft ever to do so, after the launch time failure of its sister ship, Mariner 8. When Mariner 9 reached Mars, it and two Soviet orbiters (Mars 2 and Mars 3, see Mars probe program below) found that a planet-wide dust storm was in progress. The mission controllers used the time spent waiting for the storm to clear to have the probe rendezvous with, and photograph, Phobos. When the storm cleared sufficiently for Mars' surface to be photographed by Mariner 9, the pictures returned represented a substantial advance over previous missions. These pictures were the first to offer evidence that liquid water might at one time have flowed on the planetary surface.

The following is a map of landings on Mars.

The Soviet Union intended to beat the USA by sending landers first in the Mars probe program M-69 in 1969, but both probes of the new heavy 5-ton design, Mars 1969A and Mars 1969B, failed at launch.

The first probes to impact and land on Mars were the Soviet Union's Mars 2 and Mars 3, as part of the Mars probe program M-71 in 1971. The Mars 2 and 3 probes each carried a lander, both of which failed upon landing. Mars 3 was the first successful martian lander and was able to send data and image from the surface of Mars for the first time during 20 seconds of operation.

Mars 6 and Mars 7 landers on the next Soviet Mars probe program M-73 failed their missions: the first impacted on the surface while the second missed the planet.

The first successful American landers were the Viking 1 and Viking 2.

The high failure rate of missions launched from Earth attempting to explore Mars has become informally known as the Mars Curse. Some suggest, in jest, that there is some supernatural force trying to prevent or punish the exploration of Mars. The Galactic Ghoul is a fictional space monster that consumes Mars probes, a term coined in 1997 by Time Magazine journalist Donald Neff.

Of 38 launches from Earth in an attempt to reach the planet, only 19 succeeded, a success rate of 50%. Twelve of the missions included attempts to land on the surface, but only seven transmitted data after landing.

The U.S. NASA Mars exploration program has had a somewhat better record of success in Mars exploration, achieving success in 13 out of 18 missions launched (a 72% success rate), and succeeding in six out of seven (an 86% success rate) of the launches of Mars landers.

Many people have long advocated a manned mission to Mars as the next logical step for a manned space program after lunar exploration. Aside from the prestige such a mission would bring, advocates argue that humans would easily be able to outperform robotic explorers, justifying the expenses. Critics contend, however, that robots can perform better than humans at a fraction of the expense. A list of Mars Manned missions proposals is located at Manned mission to Mars.

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The planet Mars

Mars (pronounced /ˈmɑrz/) is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. It is also referred to as the "Red Planet" because of its reddish appearance, due to iron oxide prevalent on its surface.

Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, having surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the Moon and the volcanoes, valleys, deserts and polar ice caps of Earth. It is the site of Olympus Mons, the highest known mountain in the Solar System, and of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon. Furthermore, in June 2008 three articles published in Nature presented evidence of an enormous impact crater in Mars' northern hemisphere, 10,600 km long by 8,500 km wide, or roughly four times larger than the largest impact crater yet discovered, the South Pole-Aitken basin. In addition to its geographical features, Mars’ rotational period and seasonal cycles are likewise similar to those of Earth.

Until the first flyby of Mars by Mariner 4 in 1965, many speculated that there might be liquid water on the planet's surface. This was based on observations of periodic variations in light and dark patches, particularly in the polar latitudes, which looked like seas and continents, while long, dark striations were interpreted by some observers as irrigation channels for liquid water. These straight line features were later proven not to exist and were instead explained as optical illusions. Still, of all the planets in the Solar System other than Earth, Mars is the most likely to harbor liquid water, and perhaps life. Radar data from Mars Express and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed the presence of large quantities of water ice both at the poles (July 2005) and at mid-latitudes (November 2008). The Phoenix Mars Lander directly sampled water ice in shallow martian soil on July 31, 2008.

Mars is currently host to three functional orbiting spacecraft: Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. With the exception of Earth, this is more than any planet in the Solar System. The surface is also home to the two Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) and several inert landers and rovers, both successful and unsuccessful. The Phoenix lander recently completed its mission on the surface. Geological evidence gathered by these and preceding missions suggests that Mars previously had large-scale water coverage, while observations also indicate that small geyser-like water flows have occurred during the past decade. Observations by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor show evidence that parts of the southern polar ice cap have been receding.

Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, which are small and irregularly shaped. These may be captured asteroids, similar to 5261 Eureka, a Martian Trojan asteroid. Mars can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. Its apparent magnitude reaches −2.9, a brightness surpassed only by Venus, the Moon, and the Sun, though most of the time Jupiter will appear brighter to the naked eye than Mars.

Mars has approximately half the radius of Earth. It is less dense than Earth, having about 15% of Earth's volume and 11% of the mass. Its surface area is only slightly less than the total area of Earth's dry land. While Mars is larger and more massive than Mercury, Mercury has a higher density. This results in a slightly stronger gravitational force at Mercury's surface. Mars is also roughly intermediate in size, mass, and surface gravity between Earth and Earth's Moon (the Moon is about half the diameter of Mars, whereas Earth is twice; the Earth is about ten times more massive than Mars, and the Moon ten times less massive). The red-orange appearance of the Martian surface is caused by iron(III) oxide, more commonly known as hematite, or rust.

Based on orbital observations and the examination of the Martian meteorite collection, the surface of Mars appears to be composed primarily of basalt. Some evidence suggests that a portion of the Martian surface is more silica-rich than typical basalt, and may be similar to andesitic rocks on Earth; however, these observations may also be explained by silica glass. Much of the surface is deeply covered by a fine iron(III) oxide dust that has the consistency of talcum powder.

Although Mars has no intrinsic magnetic field, observations show that parts of the planet's crust have been magnetized and that alternating polarity reversals of its dipole field have occurred. This paleomagnetism of magnetically susceptible minerals has properties that are very similar to the alternating bands found on the ocean floors of Earth. One theory, published in 1999 and re-examined in October 2005 (with the help of the Mars Global Surveyor), is that these bands demonstrate plate tectonics on Mars 4 billion years ago, before the planetary dynamo ceased to function and caused the planet's magnetic field to fade away.

Current models of the planet's interior imply a core region about 1,480 kilometres in radius, consisting primarily of iron with about 14–17% sulfur. This iron sulfide core is partially fluid, and has twice the concentration of the lighter elements than exist at Earth's core. The core is surrounded by a silicate mantle that formed many of the tectonic and volcanic features on the planet, but now appears to be inactive. The average thickness of the planet's crust is about 50 km, with a maximum thickness of 125 km. Earth's crust, averaging 40 km, is only a third as thick as Mars’ crust relative to the sizes of the two planets.

A major geological event occurred on Mars on February 19, 2008, and was caught on camera by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Images capturing a spectacular avalanche of materials thought to be fine grained ice, dust, and large blocks are shown to have detached from a 700-meter high cliff. Evidence of the avalanche is present in the dust clouds left above the cliff afterwards.

Recent studies support a theory, first proposed in the 1980s, that Mars was struck by a Pluto-sized meteor about four billion years ago. The event, thought to be the cause of the Martian hemispheric dichotomy, created the smooth Borealis basin that covers 40% of the planet.

In June, 2008, the Phoenix Lander returned data showing Martian soil to be slightly alkaline and containing vital nutrients such as magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride, all of which are necessary for living organisms to grow. Scientists compared the soil near Mars' north pole to that of backyard gardens on Earth, and concluded that it could be suitable for growth of plants such as asparagus. However, in August, 2008, the Phoenix Lander conducted simple chemistry experiments, mixing water from Earth with Martian soil in an attempt to test its pH, and discovered traces of the salt perchlorate, while also confirming many scientists theories that the Martian surface was considerably basic, measuring at 8.3. The presence of the perchlorate, if confirmed, would make Martian soil more exotic than previously believed. Further testing is necessary to eliminate the possibility of the perchlorate readings being caused by terrestrial sources, which may have migrated from the spacecraft either into samples or the instrumentation.

Liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars with its present low atmospheric pressure, except at the lowest elevations for short periods but water ice is in no short supply, with two polar ice caps made largely of ice. In March 2007, NASA announced that the volume of water ice in the south polar ice cap, if melted, would be sufficient to cover the entire planetary surface to a depth of 11 metres. Additionally, an ice permafrost mantle stretches down from the pole to latitudes of about 60°.

Large quantities of water are thought to be trapped underneath Mars's thick cryosphere. Radar data from Mars Express and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed the presence of large quantities of water ice both at the poles (July 2005) and at mid-latitudes (November 2008). The Phoenix Mars Lander directly sampled water ice in shallow martian soil on July 31, 2008. A large release of liquid water is thought to have occurred when the Valles Marineris formed early in Mars's history, forming massive outflow channels. A smaller but more recent outflow may have occurred when the Cerberus Fossae chasm opened about 5 million years ago, leaving a supposed sea of frozen ice still visible today on the Elysium Planitia centered at Cerberus Palus. However, the morphology of this region may correspond to the ponding of lava flows, causing a superficial morphology similar to ice flows, which probably draped the terrain established by earlier massive floods of Athabasca Valles. Rough surface texture at decimeter (dm) scales, thermal inertia comparable to that of the Gusev plains, and hydrovolcanic cones are consistent with the lava flow hypothesis. Furthermore, the stoichiometric mass fraction of water in this area to tens of centimeter depths is only ~4%, easily attributable to hydrated minerals and inconsistent with the presence of near-surface ice.

More recently the high resolution Mars Orbiter Camera on the Mars Global Surveyor has taken pictures which give much more detail about the history of liquid water on the surface of Mars. Despite the many giant flood channels and associated tree-like network of tributaries found on Mars there are no smaller scale structures that would indicate the origin of the flood waters. It has been suggested that weathering processes have denuded these, indicating the river valleys are old features. Higher resolution observations from spacecraft like Mars Global Surveyor also revealed at least a few hundred features along crater and canyon walls that appear similar to terrestrial seepage gullies. The gullies tend to be in the highlands of the southern hemisphere and to face the Equator; all are poleward of 30° latitude. The researchers found no partially degraded (i.e. weathered) gullies and no superimposed impact craters, indicating that these are very young features.

In a particularly striking example (see image) two photographs, taken six years apart, show a gully on Mars with what appears to be new deposits of sediment. Michael Meyer, the lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, argues that only the flow of material with a high liquid water content could produce such a debris pattern and colouring. Whether the water results from precipitation, underground or another source remains an open question. However, alternative scenarios have been suggested, including the possibility of the deposits being caused by carbon dioxide frost or by the movement of dust on the Martian surface.

Further evidence that liquid water once existed on the surface of Mars comes from the detection of specific minerals such as hematite and goethite, both of which sometimes form in the presence of water.

Nevertheless, some of the evidence believed to indicate ancient water basins and flows has been negated by higher resolution studies taken at resolution about 30 cm by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Today, features on Mars are named from a number of sources. Large albedo features retain many of the older names, but are often updated to reflect new knowledge of the nature of the features. For example, Nix Olympica (the snows of Olympus) has become Olympus Mons (Mount Olympus).

Mars’ equator is defined by its rotation, but the location of its Prime Meridian was specified, as was Earth's (at Greenwich), by choice of an arbitrary point; Mädler and Beer selected a line in 1830 for their first maps of Mars. After the spacecraft Mariner 9 provided extensive imagery of Mars in 1972, a small crater (later called Airy-0), located in the Sinus Meridiani ("Middle Bay" or "Meridian Bay"), was chosen for the definition of 0.0° longitude to coincide with the original selection.

Since Mars has no oceans and hence no 'sea level', a zero-elevation surface or mean gravity surface also had to be selected. Zero altitude is defined by the height at which there is 610.5 Pa (6.105 mbar) of atmospheric pressure. This pressure corresponds to the triple point of water, and is about 0.6% of the sea level surface pressure on Earth (.006 atm).

The dichotomy of Martian topography is striking: northern plains flattened by lava flows contrast with the southern highlands, pitted and cratered by ancient impacts. Research in 2008 has presented evidence regarding a theory proposed in 1980 postulating that, four billion years ago, the northern hemisphere of Mars was struck by an object one-tenth to two-thirds the size of the Moon. If validated, this would make Mars' northern hemisphere the site of an impact crater 10 600 km long by 8 500 km wide, or roughly the area of Europe, Asia, and Australia combined, surpassing the South Pole-Aitken basin as the largest impact crater in the Solar System. The surface of Mars as seen from Earth is divided into two kinds of areas, with differing albedo. The paler plains covered with dust and sand rich in reddish iron oxides were once thought of as Martian 'continents' and given names like Arabia Terra (land of Arabia) or Amazonis Planitia (Amazonian plain). The dark features were thought to be seas, hence their names Mare Erythraeum, Mare Sirenum and Aurorae Sinus. The largest dark feature seen from Earth is Syrtis Major.

The shield volcano, Olympus Mons (Mount Olympus), at 26 km is the highest known mountain in the Solar System. It is an extinct volcano in the vast upland region Tharsis, which contains several other large volcanoes. It is over three times the height of Mount Everest which in comparison stands at just over 8.8 km.

Mars is also scarred by a number of impact craters: a total of 43 000 craters with a diameter of 5 km or greater have been found. The largest confirmed of these is the Hellas impact basin, a light albedo feature clearly visible from Earth. Due to the smaller mass of Mars, the probability of an object colliding with the planet is about half that of the Earth. However, Mars is located closer to the asteroid belt, so it has an increased chance of being struck by materials from that source. Mars is also more likely to be struck by short-period comets, i.e., those that lie within the orbit of Jupiter. In spite of this, there are far fewer craters on Mars compared with the Moon because Mars's atmosphere provides protection against small meteors. Some craters have a morphology that suggests the ground was wet when the meteor impacted.

The large canyon, Valles Marineris (Latin for Mariner Valleys, also known as Agathadaemon in the old canal maps), has a length of 4000 km and a depth of up to 7 km. The length of Valles Marineris is equivalent to the length of Europe and extends across one-fifth the circumference of Mars. By comparison, the Grand Canyon on Earth is only 446 km long and nearly 2 km deep. Valles Marineris was formed due to the swelling of the Tharsis area which caused the crust in the area of Valles Marineris to collapse. Another large canyon is Ma'adim Vallis (Ma'adim is Hebrew for Mars). It is 700 km long and again much bigger than the Grand Canyon with a width of 20 km and a depth of 2 km in some places. It is possible that Ma'adim Vallis was flooded with liquid water in the past.

Images from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) aboard NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter have revealed seven possible cave entrances on the flanks of the Arsia Mons volcano. The caves, named after loved ones of their discoverers, are collectively known as the "seven sisters." Cave entrances measure from 100 m to 252 m wide and they are believed to be at least 73 m to 96 m deep. Because light does not reach the floor of most of the caves, it is likely that they extend much deeper than these lower estimates and widen below the surface. "Dena" is the only exception; its floor is visible and was measured to be 130 m deep. The interiors of these caverns may be protected from micrometeoroids, UV radiation, solar flares and high energy particles that bombard the planet's surface. Some researchers have suggested that this protection makes the caves good candidates for future efforts to find liquid water and signs of life.

Mars has two permanent polar ice caps: the northern one at Planum Boreum and the southern one at Planum Australe.

Mars lost its magnetosphere 4 billion years ago, so the solar wind interacts directly with the Martian ionosphere, keeping the atmosphere thinner than it would otherwise be by stripping away atoms from the outer layer. Both Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Express have detected these ionised atmospheric particles trailing off into space behind Mars. The atmosphere of Mars is now relatively thin. Atmospheric pressure on the surface varies from around 30 Pa (0.03 kPa) on Olympus Mons to over 1,155 Pa (1.155 kPa) in the depths of Hellas Planitia, with a mean surface level pressure of 600 Pa (0.6 kPa). Mars's mean surface pressure equals the pressure found 35 km above the Earth's surface. This is less than 1% of the surface pressure on Earth (101.3 kPa). The scale height of the atmosphere, about 11 km, is higher than Earth's (6 km) due to the lower gravity. Mars' gravity is only about 38% of the surface gravity on Earth.

The atmosphere on Mars consists of 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, 1.6% argon, and contains traces of oxygen and water. The atmosphere is quite dusty, containing particulates about 1.5 µm in diameter which give the Martian sky a tawny color when seen from the surface.

Several researchers claim to have detected methane in the Martian atmosphere with a concentration of about 30 ppb by volume. Since methane is an unstable gas that is broken down by ultraviolet radiation, typically lasting about 340 years in the Martian atmosphere, its presence would indicate a current or recent source of the gas on the planet. Volcanic activity, cometary impacts, and the presence of methanogenic microbial life forms are among possible sources. It was recently pointed out that methane could also be produced by a non-biological process called serpentinization involving water, carbon dioxide, and the mineral olivine, which is known to be common on Mars.

During a pole's winter, it lies in continuous darkness, chilling the surface and causing 25–30% of the atmosphere to condense out into thick slabs of CO2 ice (dry ice). When the poles are again exposed to sunlight, the frozen CO2 sublimes, creating enormous winds that sweep off the poles as fast as 400 km/h. These seasonal actions transport large amounts of dust and water vapor, giving rise to Earth-like frost and large cirrus clouds. Clouds of water-ice were photographed by the Opportunity rover in 2004.

Of all the planets, Mars's seasons are the most Earth-like, due to the similar tilts of the two planets' rotational axes. However, the lengths of the Martian seasons are about twice those of Earth's, as Mars’ greater distance from the Sun leads to the Martian year being about two Earth years in length. Martian surface temperatures vary from lows of about −140 °C (−220 °F) during the polar winters to highs of up to 20 °C (68 °F) in summers. The wide range in temperatures is due to the thin atmosphere which cannot store much solar heat, the low atmospheric pressure, and the low thermal inertia of Martian soil.

If Mars had an Earth-like orbit, its seasons would be similar to Earth's because its axial tilt is similar to Earth's. However, the comparatively large eccentricity of the Martian orbit has a significant effect. Mars is near perihelion when it is summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the north, and near aphelion when it is winter in the southern hemisphere and summer in the north. As a result, the seasons in the southern hemisphere are more extreme and the seasons in the northern are milder than would otherwise be the case. The summer temperatures in the south can be up to 30 °C (54 °F) warmer than the equivalent summer temperatures in the north.

Mars also has the largest dust storms in our Solar System. These can vary from a storm over a small area, to gigantic storms that cover the entire planet. They tend to occur when Mars is closest to the Sun, and have been shown to increase the global temperature.

The polar caps at both poles consist primarily of water ice. However, there is dry ice present on their surfaces. Frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) accumulates as a thin layer about one metre thick on the north cap in the northern winter only, while the south cap has a permanent dry ice cover about eight metres thick. The northern polar cap has a diameter of about 1000 kilometres during the northern Mars summer, and contains about 1.6 million cubic kilometres of ice, which if spread evenly on the cap would be 2 kilometres thick. (This compares to a volume of 2.85 million cubic kilometres for the Greenland ice sheet.) The southern polar cap has a diameter of 350 km and a thickness of 3 km. The total volume of ice in the south polar cap plus the adjacent layered deposits has also been estimated at 1.6 million cubic kilometres. Both polar caps show spiral troughs, which are believed to form as a result of differential solar heating, coupled with the sublimation of ice and condensation of water vapor. Both polar caps shrink and regrow following the temperature fluctuation of the Martian seasons.

Mars’ average distance from the Sun is roughly 230 million km (1.5 AU) and its orbital period is 687 (Earth) days. The solar day (or sol) on Mars is only slightly longer than an Earth day: 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds. A Martian year is equal to 1.8809 Earth years, or 1 year, 320 days, and 18.2 hours.

Mars's axial tilt is 25.19 degrees, which is similar to the axial tilt of the Earth. As a result, Mars has seasons like the Earth, though on Mars they are nearly twice as long given its longer year. Mars passed its perihelion in June 2007 and its aphelion in May 2008. Its next perihelion passage is in April 2009.

Mars has a relatively pronounced orbital eccentricity of about 0.09; of the seven other planets in the Solar System, only Mercury shows greater eccentricity. However, it is known that in the past Mars has had a much more circular orbit than it does currently. At one point 1.35 million Earth years ago, Mars had an eccentricity of roughly 0.002, much less than that of Earth today. The Mars cycle of eccentricity is 96,000 Earth years compared to the Earth's cycle of 100,000 years. However, Mars also has a much longer cycle of eccentricity with a period of 2.2 million Earth years, and this overshadows the 96,000-year cycle in the eccentricity graphs. For the last 35,000 years Mars' orbit has been getting slightly more eccentric because of the gravitational effects of the other planets. The closest distance between the Earth and Mars will continue to mildly decrease for the next 25,000 years.

The image to the left shows a comparison between Mars and Ceres, a dwarf planet in the Asteroid Belt, as seen from the north ecliptic pole, while the image to the right is as seen from the ascending node. The segments of orbits south of the ecliptic are plotted in darker colors. The perihelia (q) and aphelia (Q) are labelled with the date of the nearest passage.

Mars has two tiny natural moons, Phobos and Deimos, which orbit very close to the planet and are thought to be captured asteroids.

Both satellites were discovered in 1877 by Asaph Hall, and are named after the characters Phobos (panic/fear) and Deimos (terror/dread) who, in Greek mythology, accompanied their father Ares, god of war, into battle. Ares was known as Mars to the Romans.

From the surface of Mars, the motions of Phobos and Deimos appear very different from that of our own moon. Phobos rises in the west, sets in the east, and rises again in just 11 hours. Deimos, being only just outside synchronous orbit—where the orbital period would match the planet's period of rotation — rises as expected in the east but very slowly. Despite the 30 hour orbit of Deimos, it takes 2.7 days to set in the west as it slowly falls behind the rotation of Mars, then just as long again to rise.

Because Phobos' orbit is below synchronous altitude, the tidal forces from the planet Mars are gradually lowering its orbit. In about 50 million years it will either crash into Mars’ surface or break up into a ring structure around the planet.

It is not well understood how or when Mars came to capture its two moons. Both have circular orbits, very near the equator, which is very unusual in itself for captured objects. Phobos's unstable orbit would seem to point towards a relatively recent capture. There is no known mechanism for an airless Mars to capture a lone asteroid, so it is likely that a third body was involved — however, asteroids as large as Phobos and Deimos are rare, and binaries rarer still, outside the asteroid belt.

The current understanding of planetary habitability—the ability of a world to develop and sustain life — favors planets that have liquid water on their surface. This requires that the orbit of a planet lie within a habitable zone, which for the Sun is currently occupied by Earth. Mars orbits half an astronomical unit beyond this zone and this, along with the planet's thin atmosphere, causes water to freeze on its surface. The past flow of liquid water, however, demonstrates the planet's potential for habitability. Recent evidence has suggested that any water on the Martian surface would have been too salty and acidic to support life.

The lack of a magnetosphere and extremely thin atmosphere of Mars are a greater challenge: the planet has little heat transfer across its surface, poor insulation against bombardment and the solar wind, and insufficient atmospheric pressure to retain water in a liquid form (water instead sublimates to a gaseous state). Mars is also nearly, or perhaps totally, geologically dead; the end of volcanic activity has stopped the recycling of chemicals and minerals between the surface and interior of the planet.

Evidence suggests that the planet was once significantly more habitable than it is today, but whether living organisms ever existed there is still unclear. The Viking probes of the mid-1970s carried experiments designed to detect microorganisms in Martian soil at their respective landing sites, and had some apparently positive results, including a temporary increase of CO2 production on exposure to water and nutrients. However this sign of life was later disputed by many scientists, resulting in a continuing debate, with NASA scientist Gilbert Levin asserting that Viking may have found life. A re-analysis of the now 30-year-old Viking data, in light of modern knowledge of extremophile forms of life, has suggested that the Viking tests were also not sophisticated enough to detect these forms of life. The tests may even have killed a (hypothetical) life form. Tests conducted by the Phoenix Mars Lander have shown that the soil has a very alkaline pH and it contains magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride. The soil nutrients may be able to support life, but life would still have to be shielded from the intense ultraviolet light.

At the Johnson space center lab organic compounds have been found in the meteorite ALH84001, which is supposed to have come from Mars. They concluded that these were deposited by primitive life forms extant on Mars before the meteorite was blasted into space by a meteor strike and sent on a 15 million-year voyage to Earth. Also, small quantities of methane and formaldehyde recently detected by Mars orbiters are both claimed to be hints for life, as these chemical compounds would quickly break down in the Martian atmosphere. It is possible that these compounds may be replenished by volcanic or geological means such as serpentinization.

Dozens of spacecraft, including orbiters, landers, and rovers, have been sent to Mars by the Soviet Union, the United States, Europe, and Japan to study the planet's surface, climate, and geology.

Roughly two-thirds of all spacecraft destined for Mars have failed in one manner or another before completing or even beginning their missions. While this high failure rate can be ascribed to technical problems, enough have either failed or lost communications for causes unknown for some to search for other explanations. Examples include an Earth-Mars "Bermuda Triangle", a Mars Curse, or even the long-standing NASA in-joke, the "Great Galactic Ghoul" that feeds on Martian spacecraft.

The first successful fly-by mission to Mars was NASA's Mariner 4, launched in 1964. On November 14, 1971 Mariner 9 became the first space probe to orbit another planet when it entered into orbit around Mars. The first successful objects to land on the surface were two Soviet probes, Mars 2 and Mars 3 from the Mars probe program, launched in 1971, but both lost contact within seconds of landing. Then came the 1975 NASA launches of the Viking program, which consisted of two orbiters, each having a lander; both landers successfully touched down in 1976. Viking 1 remained operational for six years, Viking 2 for three. The Viking landers relayed the first color pictures of Mars and also mapped the surface of Mars so well that the images are still sometimes used to this day.

The Soviet probes Phobos 1 and 2 were sent to Mars in 1988 to study Mars and its two moons. Phobos 1 lost contact on the way to Mars. Phobos 2, while successfully photographing Mars and Phobos, failed just before it was set to release two landers on Phobos's surface.

Following the 1992 failure of the Mars Observer orbiter, NASA launched the Mars Global Surveyor in 1996. This mission was a complete success, having finished its primary mapping mission in early 2001. Contact was lost with the probe in November 2006 during its third extended program, spending exactly 10 operational years in space. Only a month after the launch of the Surveyor, NASA launched the Mars Pathfinder, carrying a robotic exploration vehicle Sojourner, which landed in the Ares Vallis on Mars in the summer of 1997. This mission was also successful, and received much publicity, partially due to the many images that were sent back to Earth.

The most recent mission to Mars was the NASA Phoenix Mars lander, which launched August 4, 2007 and arrived on the north polar region of Mars on May 25, 2008. The lander has a robotic arm with a 2.5 m reach and capable of digging a meter into the Martian soil. The lander has a microscopic camera capable of resolving to one-thousandth the width of a human hair, and discovered a substance at its landing site on June 15, 2008, which was confirmed to be water ice on June 20. The mission was declared concluded on November 10, 2008, after engineers were unable to contact the craft.

In 2001 NASA launched the successful Mars Odyssey orbiter, which is still in orbit as of November 2008, and the ending date has been extended to September 2010. Odyssey's Gamma Ray Spectrometer detected significant amounts of hydrogen in the upper metre or so of Mars's regolith. This hydrogen is thought to be contained in large deposits of water ice.

In 2003, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Mars Express craft, consisting of the Mars Express Orbiter and the lander Beagle 2. Beagle 2 failed during descent and was declared lost in early February 2004. In early 2004 the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer team announced it had detected methane in the Martian atmosphere. ESA announced in June 2006 the discovery of aurorae on Mars.

Also in 2003, NASA launched the twin Mars Exploration Rovers named Spirit (MER-A) and Opportunity (MER-B). Both missions landed successfully in January 2004 and have met or exceeded all their targets. Among the most significant scientific returns has been conclusive evidence that liquid water existed at some time in the past at both landing sites. Martian dust devils and windstorms have occasionally cleaned both rovers' solar panels, and thus increased their lifespan.

On August 12, 2005 the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe was launched toward the planet, arriving in orbit on March 10, 2006 to conduct a two-year science survey. The orbiter will map the Martian terrain and weather to find suitable landing sites for upcoming lander missions. It also contains an improved telecommunications link to Earth, with more bandwidth than all previous missions combined. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped the first image of a series of active avalanches near the planet's north pole, scientists said March 3, 2008.

The Dawn spacecraft flew by Mars in February 2009 for a gravity assist on its way to investigate Vesta and then Ceres.

Phoenix will be followed by the Mars Science Laboratory in 2011, a bigger, faster (90 m/h), and smarter version of the Mars Exploration Rovers. Experiments include a laser chemical sampler that can deduce the make-up of rocks at a distance of 13 m.

The joint Russian and Chinese Phobos-Grunt mission to return samples of Mars's moon Phobos is scheduled for a 2009 launch. In 2013 the ESA plans to launch its first Rover to Mars; the ExoMars rover will be capable of drilling 2 m into the soil in search of organic molecules.

On September 15, 2008, NASA announced MAVEN, a robotic mission in 2013 to provide information about Mars' atmosphere.

The Finnish-Russian MetNet mission will land tens of small vehicles on the Martian surface to establish a widespread surface observation network to investigate the planet's atmospheric structure, physics and meteorology. A precursor mission using one or a few landers is scheduled for launch in 2009 or 2011. One possibility is a piggyback launch on the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission. Other launches will take place in the launch windows extending to 2019.

Manned Mars exploration by the United States has been explicitly identified as a long-term goal in the Vision for Space Exploration announced in 2004 by US President George W. Bush. NASA and Lockheed Martin have begun work on the Orion spacecraft, formerly the Crew Exploration Vehicle, which is currently scheduled to send a human expedition to Earth's moon by 2020 as a stepping stone to an expedition to Mars thereafter. On September 28, 2007, NASA administrator Michael D. Griffin stated that NASA aims to put a man on Mars by 2037.

ESA hopes to land humans on Mars between 2030 and 2035. This will be preceded by successively larger probes, starting with the launch of the ExoMars probe and a Mars Sample Return Mission.

With the existence of various orbiters, landers, and rovers, it is now possible to study astronomy from the Martian skies. The Earth and the Moon are easily visible while Mars’ moon Phobos appears about one third the angular diameter of the full Moon as it appears from Earth. On the other hand Deimos appears more or less star-like, and appears only slightly brighter than Venus does from Earth.

There are also various phenomena well-known on Earth that have now been observed on Mars, such as meteors and auroras. A transit of the Earth as seen from Mars will occur on November 10, 2084. There are also transits of Mercury and transits of Venus, and the moon Deimos is of sufficiently small angular diameter that its partial "eclipses" of the Sun are best considered transits (see Transit of Deimos from Mars).

To the naked eye, Mars usually appears a distinct yellow, orange, or reddish color, and varies in brightness more than any other planet as seen from Earth over the course of its orbit. However the actually colour of Mars is closer to butterscotch, the redness seen is actually just dust in the planets atmosphere; considering this NASA's Spirit rover has taken pictures of a greenish-brown, mud-coloured landscape with blue-grey rocks and patches of light red coloured sand . The apparent magnitude of Mars varies from +1.8 at conjunction to as high as −2.9 at perihelic opposition. When farthest away from the Earth, it is more than seven times as far from the latter as when it is closest. When least favourably positioned, it can be lost in the Sun's glare for months at a time. At its most favourable times — which occur twice every 32 years, alternately at 15 and 17-year intervals, and always between late July and late September — Mars shows a wealth of surface detail to a telescope. Especially noticeable, even at low magnification, are the polar ice caps.

The point of Mars’ closest approach to the Earth is known as opposition. The length of time between successive oppositions, or the synodic period, is 780 days. Because of the eccentricities of the orbits, the times of opposition and minimum distance can differ by up to 8.5 days. The minimum distance varies between about 55 and 100 million km due to the planets' elliptical orbits. The next Mars opposition will occur on January 29, 2010.

As Mars approaches opposition it begins a period of retrograde motion, which means it will appear to move backwards in a looping motion with respect to the background stars.

On August 27, 2003, at 9:51:13 UT, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60 000 years: 55 758 006 km (0.372719 AU). This occurred when Mars was one day from opposition and about three days from its perihelion, making Mars particularly easy to see from Earth. The last time it came so close is estimated to have been on September 12, 57 617 BC, the next time being in 2287. However, this record approach was only very slightly closer than other recent close approaches. For instance, the minimum distance on August 22, 1924 was 0.372846 AU, and the minimum distance on August 24, 2208 will be 0.372254 AU.

The history of observations of Mars is marked by the oppositions of Mars, when the planet is closest to Earth and hence is most easily visible, which occur every couple of years. Even more notable are the perihelic oppositions of Mars which occur about every 15–17 years, and are distinguished because Mars is close to perihelion, making it even closer to Earth. Aristotle was among the first known writers to describe observations of Mars, noting that, as it passed behind the Moon, it was farther away than was originally believed.

The only occultation of Mars by Venus observed was that of October 3, 1590, seen by M. Möstlin at Heidelberg. In 1609, Mars was viewed by Galileo, who was first to see it via telescope.

By the 19th century, the resolution of telescopes reached a level sufficient for surface features to be identified. In September 1877, a perihelic opposition of Mars occurred on September 5. In that year, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, then in Milan, used a 22 cm telescope to help produce the first detailed map of Mars. These maps notably contained features he called canali, which were later shown to be an optical illusion. These canali were supposedly long straight lines on the surface of Mars to which he gave names of famous rivers on Earth. His term, which means 'channels' or 'grooves', was popularly mistranslated in English as canals.

Influenced by the observations, the orientalist Percival Lowell founded an observatory which had a 300 and 450 mm telescope. The observatory was used for the exploration of Mars during the last good opportunity in 1894 and the following less favorable oppositions. He published several books on Mars and life on the planet, which had a great influence on the public. The canali were also found by other astronomers, like Henri Joseph Perrotin and Louis Thollon in Nice, using one of the largest telescopes of that time.

The seasonal changes (consisting of the diminishing of the polar caps and the dark areas formed during Martian summer) in combination with the canals lead to speculation about life on Mars, and it was a long held belief that Mars contained vast seas and vegetation. The telescope never reached the resolution required to give proof to any speculations. However, as bigger telescopes were used, fewer long, straight canali were observed. During an observation in 1909 by Flammarion with a 840 mm telescope, irregular patterns were observed, but no canali were seen.

Even in the 1960s articles were published on Martian biology, putting aside explanations other than life for the seasonal changes on Mars. Detailed scenarios for the metabolism and chemical cycles for a functional ecosystem have been published.

It was not until spacecraft visited the planet during NASA's Mariner missions in the 1960s that these myths were dispelled. The results of the Viking life-detection experiments started an intermission in which the hypothesis of a hostile, dead planet was generally accepted.

Some maps of Mars were made using the data from these missions, but it was not until the Mars Global Surveyor mission, launched in 1996 and operated until late 2006, that complete, extremely detailed maps were obtained. These maps are now available online, for example, at Google Mars.

Mars is named after the Roman god of war. In Babylonian astronomy, the planet was named after Nergal, their deity of fire, war, and destruction, most likely due to the planet's reddish appearance. When the Greeks equated Nergal with their god of war, Ares, they named the planet Ἄρεως ἀστἡρ (Areos aster), or "star of Ares". Then, following the identification of Ares and Mars, it was translated into Latin as stella Martis, or "star of Mars", or simply Mars. The Greeks also called the planet Πυρόεις Pyroeis meaning "fiery". In Hindu mythology, Mars is known as Mangala (मंगल). The planet is also called Angaraka in Sanskrit, after the celibate god of war, who possesses the signs of Aries and Scorpio, and teaches the occult sciences. The planet was known by the Egyptians as "Ḥr Dšr";;;; or "Horus the Red". The Hebrews named it Ma'adim (מאדים) — "the one who blushes"; this is where one of the largest canyons on Mars, the Ma'adim Vallis, gets its name. It is known as al-Mirrikh in Arabic, and Merih in Turkish. In Urdu and Persian it is written as مریخ and known as "Merikh". The etymology of al-Mirrikh is unknown. Ancient Persians named it Bahram, the Zoroastrian god of faith and it is written as بهرام. Ancient Turks called it Sakit. The Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures refer to the planet as 火星, or the fire star, a name based on the ancient Chinese mythological cycle of Five elements.

Its symbol, derived from the astrological symbol of Mars, is a circle with a small arrow pointing out from behind. It is a stylized representation of a shield and spear used by the Roman God Mars. Mars in Roman mythology was the God of War and patron of warriors. This symbol is also used in biology to describe the male sex, and in alchemy to symbolise the element iron which was considered to be dominated by Mars whose characteristic red colour is coincidentally due to iron oxide. ♂ occupies Unicode position U+2642.

The popular idea that Mars was populated by intelligent Martians exploded in the late 19th century. Schiaparelli's "canali" observations combined with Percival Lowell's books on the subject put forward the standard notion of a planet that was a drying, cooling, dying world with ancient civilizations constructing irrigation works.

It was some time afterward when the thought flashed upon my mind that the disturbances I had observed might be due to an intelligent control. Although I could not decipher their meaning, it was impossible for me to think of them as having been entirely accidental. The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another.

In a New York Times article in 1901, Edward Charles Pickering, director of the Harvard College Observatory, said that they had received a telegram from Lowell Observatory in Arizona that seemed to confirm that Mars was trying to communicate with the Earth.

Early in December 1900, we received from Lowell Observatory in Arizona a telegram that a shaft of light had been seen to project from Mars (the Lowell observatory makes a specialty of Mars) lasting seventy minutes. I wired these facts to Europe and sent out neostyle copies through this country. The observer there is a careful, reliable man and there is no reason to doubt that the light existed. It was given as from a well-known geographical point on Mars. That was all. Now the story has gone the world over. In Europe it is stated that I have been in communication with Mars, and all sorts of exaggerations have spring up. Whatever the light was, we have no means of knowing. Whether it had intelligence or not, no one can say. It is absolutely inexplicable.

Pickering later proposed creating a set of mirrors in Texas with the intention of signaling Martians.

The depiction of Mars in fiction has been stimulated by its dramatic red color and by early scientific speculations that its surface conditions not only might support life, but intelligent life.

Thus originated a large number of science fiction scenarios, the best known of which is H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, published in 1898, in which Martians seek to escape their dying planet by invading Earth. A subsequent radio version of The War of the Worlds on October 30, 1938 was presented as a live news broadcast, and many listeners mistook it for the truth.

Also influential were Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, in which human explorers accidentally destroy a Martian civilization, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series and a number of Robert A. Heinlein stories before the mid-sixties.

A comic figure of an intelligent Martian, Marvin the Martian, appeared on television in 1948 as a character in the Looney Tunes animated cartoons of Warner Brothers, and has continued as part of popular culture to the present.

Author Jonathan Swift made reference to the moons of Mars, about 150 years before their actual discovery by Asaph Hall, detailing reasonably accurate descriptions of their orbits, in the 19th chapter of his novel Gulliver's Travels.

After the Mariner and Viking spacecraft had returned pictures of Mars as it really is, an apparently lifeless and canal-less world, these ideas about Mars had to be abandoned and a vogue for accurate, realist depictions of human colonies on Mars developed, the best known of which may be Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. However, pseudo-scientific speculations about the Face on Mars and other enigmatic landmarks spotted by space probes have meant that ancient civilizations continue to be a popular theme in science fiction, especially in film.

Another popular theme, particularly among American writers, is the Martian colony that fights for independence from Earth. This is a major plot element in the novels of Greg Bear and Kim Stanley Robinson, as well as the movie Total Recall (based on a short story by Philip K. Dick) and the television series Babylon 5. Many video games also use this element, including Red Faction and the Zone of the Enders series. Mars (and its moons) were also the setting for the popular Doom video game franchise and the later Martian Gothic.

In Gustav Holst's The Planets, Mars is depicted as the "Bringer of War".

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Colonization of Mars

An artist's conception of the colonization of Mars

Mars is the focus of much speculation and serious study about possible human colonization. Its surface conditions and the availability of water make it arguably the most hospitable of the planets in this solar system, other than Earth. The Moon has been proposed as the first location for human colonization, but unlike Earth's moon, Mars has the potential capacity to host human and other organic life because it has an atmosphere. With an environment suitable for colonization, and potential for alteration into a stable ecosystem in the far future, Mars is considered by most scientists, including Stephen Hawking, as the ideal planet for future colonization and renewal of life. The colonization of Mars is a thought-provoking subject that captures the imagination of many people in science and science-fiction. The project of colonizing Mars provides a useful thought experiment for contemplating the future of humanity.

Mars requires less energy per unit mass (delta V) to reach from Earth than any planet except Venus. Using a Hohmann transfer orbit, a trip to Mars requires approximately nine months in space. Modified transfer trajectories that cut the travel time down to seven or six months in space are possible with incrementally higher amounts of energy and fuel compared to a Hohmann transfer orbit, and are in standard use for robotic Mars missions. Shortening the travel time below about six months requires higher delta-v and an exponentially increasing amount of fuel, and is not feasible with chemical rockets, but could become feasible with advanced propulsion technologies not in current use, such as VASIMR, and nuclear rockets, the latter of which could potentially cut the trip time down to about two weeks.

Conditions on the surface of Mars are much closer to habitability than the surface of any other planet or moon, as seen by the extremely hot and cold temperatures on Mercury, the furnace-hot surface of Venus, or the cryogenic cold of the outer planets and their moons. Only the cloud tops of Venus are closer in terms of habitability to Earth than Mars is. There are natural settings on Earth where humans have explored that match most conditions on Mars. The highest altitude reached by a manned balloon ascent, a record set in May 1961, was 34,668 meters (113,740 feet). The pressure at that altitude is about the same as on the surface of Mars. Extreme cold in the Arctic and Antarctic match all but the most extreme temperatures on Mars.

Some groups have speculated that Mars might one day be transformed so as to allow a wide variety of living things, including humans, to survive unaided on Mars' surface. Others make a variety of objections to doing so, some relating to technical feasibility, and others to desirability.

Mars has no global geomagnetic field comparable to Earth's. Combined with a thin atmosphere, this permits a significant amount of ionizing radiation to reach the Martian surface. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft carried an instrument, the Mars Radiation Environment Experiment (MARIE), to measure the dangers to humans. MARIE found that radiation levels in orbit above Mars are 2.5 times higher than at the International Space Station. Average doses were about 22 millirads per day (220 micrograys per day or 0.8 gray per year). A three year exposure to such levels would be close to the safety limits currently adopted by NASA. Levels at the Martian surface would be somewhat lower and might vary significantly at different locations depending on altitude and local magnetic fields.

Occasional solar proton events (SPEs) produce much higher doses. Astronauts on Mars could be warned of SPEs by sensors closer to the Sun and presumably take shelter during these events. Some SPEs were observed by MARIE that were not seen by sensors near Earth due to the fact that SPEs are directional. This would imply that a network of spacecraft in orbit around the Sun might be needed to ensure all SPEs threatening Mars were detected.

Much remains to be learned about space radiation. In 2003, NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center opened a facility, the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory, at Brookhaven National Laboratory that employs particle accelerators to simulate space radiation. The facility will study its effects on living organisms along with shielding techniques. There is some evidence that this kind of low level, chronic radiation is not quite as dangerous as once thought; and that radiation hormesis occurs. The consensus among those that have studied the issues is that radiation levels, with the exception of the SPEs, that would be experienced on the surface of Mars, and whilst journeying there, are certainly a concern, but are not thought to prevent a trip from being made with current technology.

Communications with Earth are relatively straightforward during the half-sol when the Earth is above the Martian horizon. NASA and ESA included communications relay equipment in several of the Mars orbiters, so Mars already has communications satellites. While these will eventually wear out, additional orbiters with communication relay capability are likely to be launched before any colonization expeditions are mounted.

The one-way communication delay due to the speed of light ranges from about 3 minutes at closest approach (approximated by aphelion of Mars minus perihelion of Earth) to 22 minutes at the largest possible superior conjunction (approximated by perihelion of Mars plus perihelion of Earth). Telephone conversations or Internet Relay Chat between Earth and Mars would be highly impractical due to the long time lags involved. NASA has found that direct communication can be blocked for about two weeks every synodic period, around the time of superior conjunction when the Sun is directly between Mars and Earth. A satellite at either of the Earth-Sun L4/L5 Lagrange points could serve as a relay during this period to solve the problem, or even a constellation of communications satellites, which would be a minor expense in the context of a full-blown Mars colonization program.

The path to a human colony could be prepared by robotic systems such as the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. These systems could help locate resources, such as ground water or ice, that would help a colony grow and thrive. The lifetimes of these systems would be measured in years and even decades, and as recent developments in commercial spaceflight have shown, it may be that these systems will involve private as well as government ownership. These robotic systems also have a reduced cost compared with early crewed operations, and have less political risk.

Wired systems might lay the groundwork for early crewed landings and bases, by producing various consumables including fuel, oxidizers, water, and construction materials. Establishing power, communications, shelter, heating, and manufacturing basics can begin with robotic systems, if only as a prelude to crewed operations.

Early human missions to Mars, such as those being tentatively planned by NASA, ESA, and other national space agencies, would not be direct precursors to colonization. They are intended solely as exploration missions, as the Apollo missions to the Moon were not planned to be sites of a permanent base.

Colonization requires the establishment of permanent bases that have potential for self-expansion. A famous proposal for building such bases is the Mars Direct plan, advocated by Robert Zubrin. The Mars Society has established the Mars Analogue Research Station Programme at sites Devon Island in Canada and in Utah, USA, to experiment with different plans for human operations on Mars, based on Mars Direct.

As with early colonies in the New World, economics would be a crucial aspect to a colony's success. The reduced gravity well of Mars and its position in the solar system may facilitate Mars-Earth trade and provide the rationalization for continued settlement of the planet.

Mars' reduced gravity together with its rotation rate makes it possible for the construction of a space elevator with today's materials, although the low orbit of Phobos will present engineering challenges. If constructed, the elevator could transport minerals and other natural resources extracted from the planet.

A major economic problem is the enormous up-front investment required to establish the colony and perhaps also terraform the planet.

Some early Mars colonies might specialize in developing local resources for Martian consumption, such as water and/or ice.

Another main inter-Martian trade goods during early colonization could be manure. Assuming that life doesn't exist on Mars, the soil is going to be very poor for growing plants, so manure and other fertilizers will be valued highly in any Martian civilization until the planet changes enough chemically to support growing vegetation on its own. However, the Phoenix lander has discovered that the Martian soil could possibly sustain life already.

Solar power will possibly be the main power source for a Martian colony, although solar insolation (the amount of solar radiation that reaches mars) is on average only 42% of that on Earth. Excess energy gathered in the day can be stored in batteries for back-up power and nightly use. A Martian colony will need large amounts of energy for heating the habitats and greenhouses, since temperatures are much lower compared to Earth. Alternatively, nuclear reactors could provide power for colonies. Heating requirements could be lowered if the colonists use domes to trap solar heat.

Mars can be considered in broad regions for discussion of possible colony sites.

Mars' north and south poles once attracted great interest as colony sites because seasonally-varying polar ice caps have long been observed by telescope from Earth. Mars Odyssey found the largest concentration of water near the north pole, but also showed that water likely exists in lower latitudes as well, making the poles less compelling as a colony locale. Like Earth, Mars sees a midnight sun at the poles during local summer and polar night during local winter.

Mars Odyssey found natural caves near the volcano Arsia Mons. Yet, the size and shape of the caves are unknown. Scientists suspect water ice on the ground of the caves. Colonists could possibly benefit from both shelter from radiation and ice reservoirs. Geothermal energy is also suspected in the equatorial regions.

The exploration of Mars' surface is still underway. The two Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have encountered very different soil and rock characteristics. This suggests that the Martian landscape is quite varied and the ideal location for a colony would be better determined when more data become available. As on Earth, the further one goes from the equator, the greater the seasonal climate variation one encounters.

Valles Marineris, the "Grand Canyon" of Mars, is over 3,000 km long and averages 8 km deep. Atmospheric pressure at the bottom would be some 25% higher than the surface average, 0.9 kPa vs 0.7 kPa. The canyon runs roughly east-west, so shadows from its walls should not interfere too badly with solar power collection. River channels lead to the canyon, indicating it was once flooded.

Making Mars Colonization a reality is advocated by several groups with different reasons and proposals. One of the oldest is the Mars Society. They promote a NASA program to accomplish human exploration of Mars and have set up Mars analog research stations in Canada and the United States. Another group is Marsdrive. MarsDrive is dedicated to private initiatives for the exploration and settlement of Mars.

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MaRS Discovery District

The MaRS Centre, seen from the northeast corner of College Street and University Avenue

MaRS Discovery District is a not-for-profit corporation founded in 2000. Its stated goal is to commercialize publicly funded medical research with the help of local private enterprises and as such is a public-private partnership.

The name MaRS was originally drawn from a file name, and later attributed with the title “Medical and Related Sciences.” As MaRS also works in other fields such as Information and Communications Technology, Engineering, and Social Innovation, it has since abandoned this association.

It is located on the corner of College Street and University Avenue in the city of Toronto’s Discovery District, adjacent to the University of Toronto and its affiliated research hospitals at the University Health Network.

The MaRS development consists of two phases.

Phase I includes the ‘Heritage Building’ (formerly a wing of the Toronto General Hospital from 1913 to 2002), the eight-storey ‘South Tower’ and the fifteen-story ‘Toronto Medical Discovery Tower.’ Approximately 700,000 square feet (65,000 m2) in size, it contains research facilities, professional services firms, investment companies, technology transfer offices, research and community networking organizations and established global companies. The MaRS Incubator provides lab and office resources for upstart companies, and the MaRS Collaboration Centre provides networking and conference facilities. Phase I began operations in 2005.

Phase II, designed by Bregman + Hamann Architects, will constitute a 900,000-square-foot (84,000 m2) addition to the MaRS centre in the form of a 23-story tower on the complex’s west wing. Construction began in late 2007, and was scheduled to be completed in 2010. However, in November 2008, Phase II construction was put on hold due to the economic downturn.

In accordance with its doctrine of ‘Convergence Innovation’, the MaRS centre is designed to maximize socialization, networking and random collisions. Architectural details such as large public spaces, small offices and shared facilities (e.g. break rooms) contribute to this end, as well as events such as monthly tenant pub nights or coffee breaks.

The MaRS Venture group provides advisory services to startup client companies on topics such as constructing business and marketing plans, finding executives and gathering market intelligence. MaRS claims that these address the tasks of acquiring capital and developing business resources that have traditionally proven difficult for hitherto research-oriented enterprises.

On April 4, 2006, members of the group “People Against the Militarization of Life” protested in front of the MaRS centre against a tentative deal for MaRS to rent an office to the Battelle Memorial Institute—a research company that has contracts from the U.S. military. MaRS stated that Battelle would be sharing its expertise in medical—rather than military—research, and that MaRS had no interest in military research. The deal later fell through.

MaRS is significant because it marks the Canadian continuation of a trend of increasing private-public sector partnerships, established in the USA after introduction of the Bayh-Dole act. The Bayh-Dole act's goal was to develop more university research into commercial products, but it appears to have resulted in the opposite.

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Geology of Mars

The planet Mars

The geology of Mars, also known as areology (from Greek Ἂρης Arēs and -λογία -logia), refers to the study of the composition, structure, physical properties, history, and the processes that shape the planet Mars.

Elements present on Mars include among others oxygen (O), iron (Fe), silicon (Si) and sulfur (S).

The studying of craters is based upon the assumption that crater-forming impactors have hit the planet all throughout history at regular intervals, and there is no way to exactly date an area just based upon the number of impacts, only to guess that areas with more impacts must be older than areas with fewer impacts. For example this logic breaks down if a large number of asteroids had hit at once, or if there were long periods where few asteroids hit.

Based on recent observations made by the OMEGA Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer on board the Mars Express orbiter, the principal investigator of the OMEGA spectrometer has proposed an alternative timeline based upon the correlation between the mineralogy and geology of the planet. This proposed timeline divides the history of the planet into 3 epochs; the Phyllocian, Theiikian and Siderikan.

The surface of Mars is thought to be primarily composed of basalt, based upon the observed lava flows from volcanos, the Martian meteorite collection, and data from landers and orbital observations. The lava flows from Martian volcanos show that lava has a very low viscosity, typical of basalt. Analysis of the soil samples collected by the Viking landers in 1976 indicate iron-rich clays consistent with weathering of basaltic rocks. There is some evidence that some portion of the Martian surface might be more silica-rich than typical basalt, perhaps similar to andesitic rocks on Earth, though these observations may also be explained by silica glass, phyllosilicates, or opal. Much of the surface is deeply covered by dust as fine as talcum powder. The red/orange appearance of Mars' surface is caused by iron(III) oxide (Fe2O3) (rust). Mars has twice as much iron oxide in its outer layer as Earth does, despite their supposed similar origin. It is thought that Earth, being hotter, transported much of the iron downwards in the 1,800 km deep, 3,200 °C, lava seas of the early planet, while Mars, with a lower lava temperature of 2,200 °C was too cool for this to happen. While the possibility of carbonates on Mars has been of great interest to exobiologists and geochemists alike, there is little evidence for significant quantities of carbonate deposits on the surface.

One of the goals of potential NASA missions to the planet is to grow plants such as asparagus, green beans and turnips in the Martian soil, which, after some testing, had suggested Earth-like soil. These tests determined the soil was slightly alkaline and contained vital nutrients such as magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride, all of which are necessary for living things (as we know them) to grow. In fact, NASA previously reported that the soil near Mars' north pole was similar that found in backyard gardens on Earth where plants could potentially grow. However, in August, 2008, the Phoenix Lander conducted simple chemistry experiments, mixing Earth-water with Martian soil in an attempt to test it's pH, and discovered traces of perchlorate, which is the oxidizing ion ClO4. Preliminary results from this second lab test suggest that produce planted in the soil may have to overcome a very harsh environment, one much less friendly to life than once believed. Further testing is necessary to determine how much perclorate exists in the Martian soil, how it formed, or if perhaps the soil sample was simply contaminated by emissions from Phoenix's burning fuel during landing.

Although Mars today has no global-scale intrinsic magnetic field, observations have been interpreted as showing that parts of the planet's crust have been magnetized and that polarity reversal of its dipole field occurred when the central dynamo ceased, leaving only residual permanent crustal fields. This Paleomagnetism of magnetically susceptible minerals has features very similar to the alternating bands found on the ocean floors of Earth. One theory, published in 1999 and re-examined in October 2005 with the help of the Mars Global Surveyor, is that these bands are evidence of the past operation of plate tectonics on Mars 4 Ga ago, before Mars' planetary dynamo ceased. The magnetization patterns in the crust also provide evidence of past polar wandering, the change in orientation of Mars' rotation axis.

As can be seen from the figure, Mars' magnetic field varies over its surface, and while it is mostly very small it can in places be locally as high as on Earth. It is possible to date the time when Mars' dynamo turned off. The large impact basins Hellas and Argyre, aged 4 Ga, are unmagnetised, so the dynamo would have to have turned off before then otherwise the molten rock would have remagnetised. An alternative theory advanced by Benoit Langlois is that a lunar-scale object struck the northern hemisphere at a shallow angle and high latitude at about 4.4 Ga. Computer models by Sabine Stanley show that this would have created a convection current powered dynamo in the southern hemisphere.

Mars has approximately half the radius of Earth and only one-tenth the mass, which generates a surface gravity of 0.376 g, that is only about 38% of the surface gravity on Earth.

Current models of the planet's interior suggest a core region approximately 1,480 km in radius (just under half the total radius), consisting primarily of iron with about 15-17% sulfur. This iron sulfide core is partially or completely fluid, with twice the concentration of light elements that exists at Earth's core. The high sulfur content of Mars' core gives it a very low viscosity, which in turn implies that Mars' core formed very early on in the planet's history.

The core is surrounded by a silicate mantle that formed many of the tectonic and volcanic features on the planet. The average thickness of the planet's crust is about 50 km, and it is no thicker than 125 km, which is much thicker than Earth's crust which varies between 5 km and 70 km. A recent radar map of the south polar ice cap showed that it does not deform the crust despite being about 3 km thick.

As a result of 1999 observations of the magnetic fields on Mars by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, it was proposed that during the first half billion years after Mars was formed, the mechanisms of plate tectonics may have been active, with the Northern Lowlands equivalent to an ocean basin on Earth. Further data from the Mars Express orbiter's High Resolution Stereo Camera in 2007 clearly showed the 'global crustal dichotomy boundary’ in the Aeolis Mensae region.

The high resolution Mars Orbiter Camera on the Mars Global Surveyor has taken pictures which give much more detail about the history of liquid water on the surface of Mars. Despite the many giant flood channels and associated tree-like network of tributaries found on Mars there are no smaller scale structures that would indicate the origin of the flood waters. It has been suggested that weathering processes have denuded these indicating the river valleys are old features. Higher resolution observations from spacecraft like Mars Global Surveyor also revealed at least a few hundred features along crater and canyon walls that appear similar to terrestrial seepage gullies. The gullies tended to be Equator facing and in the highlands of the southern hemisphere, and all poleward of 30° latitude. The researchers found no partially degraded (i.e. weathered) gullies and no superimposed impact craters, indicating that these are very young features.

Another theory about the formation of the ancient river valleys is that rather than floods, they were created by the slow seeping out of groundwater. This observation is supported by the sudden ending of the river networks in theatre shaped heads, rather than tapering ones. Also valleys are often discontinuous, small sections of uneroded land separating the parts of the river.

On the other hand, evidence in favor of heavy or even catastrophic flooding is found in the giant ripples in the Athabasca Vallis .

Liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars with its present low atmospheric pressure, except at the lowest elevations for short periods. Recently, there has been evidence to suggest that liquid water flowed on the surface in the recent past, with the discovery of gully deposits that were not seen ten years ago .

Among the findings from the Opportunity rover is the presence of hematite on Mars in the form of small spheres on the Meridiani Planum. The spheres are only a few millimetres in diameter and are believed to have formed as rock deposits under watery conditions billions of years ago. Other minerals have also been found containing forms of sulfur, iron or bromine such as jarosite. This and other evidence led a group of 50 scientists to conclude in the December 9, 2004 edition of the journal Science that "Liquid water was once intermittently present at the Martian surface at Meridiani, and at times it saturated the subsurface. Because liquid water is a key prerequisite for life, we infer conditions at Meridiani may have been habitable for some period of time in Martian history". Later studies suggested that this liquid water was actually acid because of the types of minerals found at the location. On the opposite side of the planet the mineral goethite, which (unlike hematite) forms only in the presence of water, along with other evidence of water, has also been found by the Spirit rover in the "Columbia Hills".

On July 31, 2008, NASA announced that the Phoenix lander confirmed the presence of water ice on Mars, as predicted on 2002 by the Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Mars has polar ice caps that contain 85% highly carbon dioxide (CO2) ice and 15% water ice that change with the Martian seasons. Each cap has surface deposits of carbon dioxide ice that form a polar "hood" during Martian winter, and then sublimate during the summer uncovering the underlying cap surface of layered water ice and dust. The southern polar cap (Planum Australe) differs from the northern polar cap (Planum Boreum) in that it appears to contain at least some permanent deposits of CO2, which are changing on the time scale of years. The southern polar cap has recently been confirmed to be a 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) thick slab of about 80% water ice. An interesting finding of the radar study is the suspected existence of a small sheet of what looks like liquid water between the ice and Mars' crust.

NASA scientists calculate that the volume of water ice in the south polar ice cap, if melted, would be sufficient to cover the entire planetary surface to a depth of 11 metres. Additionally, an ice permafrost mantle stretches from the poles to latitudes of about 60°.

On July 28, 2005, the European Space Agency announced the existence of a crater partially filled with frozen water; some then interpreted the discovery as an "ice lake". Images of the crater, taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, clearly show a broad sheet of ice in the bottom of an unnamed crater located on Vastitas Borealis, a broad plain that covers much of Mars' far northern latitudes, at approximately 70.5° North and 103° East. The crater is 35 km wide and about 2 km deep.

The height difference between the crater floor and the surface of the water ice is about 200 metres. ESA scientists have attributed most of this height difference to sand dunes beneath the water ice, which are partially visible. While scientists do not refer to the patch as a "lake", the water ice patch is remarkable for its size and for being present throughout the year. Deposits of water ice and layers of frost have been found in many different locations on the planet.

Surface features consistent with pack ice have been discovered in the southern Elysium Planitia. What appear to be plates of broken ice, ranging in size from 30 m to 30 km, are found in channels leading to a flooded area of approximately the same depth and width as the North Sea. The plates show signs of break up and rotation that clearly distinguish them from lava plates elswhere on the surface of Mars. The source for the flood is thought to be the nearby geological fault Cerberus Fossae which spewed water as well as lava aged some 2 to 10 million years.

A striking feature of the topography of Mars is the flat plains of the northern hemisphere. With the increasing amounts of data returning from the current set of orbiting probes, what seems to be an ancient shoreline several thousands of kilometres long has been discovered. One major problem with the conjectured 2 Ga old shoreline is that it is not flat — i.e. does not follow a line of constant graviational potential. However a 2007 Nature article points out that this could be due to a change in distribution in Mars' mass, perhaps due to volcanic eruption or meteor impact — the Elysium volcanic province or the massive Utopia basin that is buried beneath the northern plains have been put forward as the most likely causes. The Mars Ocean Hypothesis conjectures that the Vastitas Borealis basin was the site of a primordial ocean of liquid water 3.8 billion years ago.

A 2008 study provided evidence for multiple glacial phases during Late Amazonian glaciation at the dichotomy boundary on Mars.

Spectra from the NASA THEMIS probe have shown the possibility of the mineral olivine on Mars by looking for the characteristic infra-red radiation it emits. The discovery is interesting because the mineral, which is associated with volcanic activity, is very susceptible to weathering by water, and so its presence and distribution which can be obtained from satellite could tell us about the history of water on Mars.

Olivine forms from magma and weathers into clays or iron oxide. The researchers found olivine all over the planet, but the largest exposure was in Nili Fossae, a region dating from >3.5 Ga (the Noachian epoch). Another outcrop is in the Ganges Chasma, an eastern side chasm of the Valles Marineris (pictured).

Crater morphology provides information about the physical structure and composition of the surface. Impact craters allow us to look deep below the surface and into Mars geological past. Lobate ejecta blankets (pictured left) and central pit craters are common on Mars but uncommon on the Moon, which may indicate the presence of near-surface volatiles (ice and water) on Mars. Degraded impact structures record variations in volcanic, fluvial, and eolian activity.

The Yuty crater is an example of a Rampart crater so called because of the rampart-like edge of the ejecta. In the Yuty crater the ejecta competely covers an older crater at its side, showing that the ejected material is just a thin layer.

The largest unambiguous impact crater is the Hellas Basin in the southern hemisphere. However, it appears that the Borealis Basin, covering most of the low-lying northern hemisphere, is also an impact crater.

On February 19, 2008 an amazing geologic event was captured by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Images which captured a spectacular avalanche thought to be fine grained ice, dust and large blocks are shown to have fallen from a 2,300-foot (700 m) high cliff. Evidence of the avalanche are shown by the dust clouds rising from the cliff afterwards. Such geological events are theorized to be the cause of geologic patterns known as slope streaks.

A new phenomenon known as slope streaks has been uncovered by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These features appear on crater walls and other slopes and are thin but many hundreds of metres long. The streaks have been observed to grow slowly over the course of a year or so, always beginning at a point source. Newly formed streaks are dark in colour but fade as they age until white. The cause is unknown, but theories range from dry dust avalanches (the favoured theory) to brine seepage.

Image of the February 19, 2008 Mars avalanche captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Closer shot of the avalanche.

Dust clouds rise above the 2,300-foot (700 m) deep cliff.

A photo with scale demonstrates the size of the avalanche.

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Climate of Mars

Hubble, colossal Polar Cyclone on Mars

The climate of Mars has been an issue of scientific curiosity for centuries, due not least to the fact that Mars is the only terrestrial planet whose surface can be directly observed in detail from the Earth. A lingering pre-scientific fascination with "the planet of war" also contributes to interest.

Although Mars is smaller and somewhat farther away from the Sun than the Earth, its climate has important similarities, such as the polar ice caps, seasonal changes and the observable presence of weather patterns. It has attracted sustained study from planetologists and climatologists. Although Mars's climate has similarities to Earth's, including seasons and periodic ice ages, there are also important differences such as the absence of liquid water, but yet still ice found on the surface of the planet and the much lower thermal inertia. Mars' atmosphere has a scale height of approximately 11 km (36,000 ft), 60% greater than that on Earth. The climate is of considerable relevance to the question of whether life is or was present on the planet, and briefly received more interest in the news due to NASA measurements indicating increased sublimation of the south polar icecap leading to some popular press speculation that Mars was undergoing a parallel bout of global warming.

Martian climatic conditions have been reasonably well-studied. Data has been gathered by Earth-based instruments since as early as the 17th century but it is only since the exploration of Mars began in the mid-1960s that close-range observation has been possible. Flyby and orbital spacecraft have provided data from above, while direct measurements of atmospheric conditions have been provided by a number of landers and rovers. Advanced Earth orbital instruments today continue to provide some useful "big picture" observations of relatively large weather phenomena.

The first martian flyby mission was Mariner 4 which arrived in 1965. That quick two day pass (July 14-15, 1965) was limited and crude in terms of its contribution to the state of knowledge of martian climate. Later Mariner missions (Mariner 6, and Mariner 7) filled in some of the gaps in basic climate information. Data based climate studies started in earnest with the Viking program in 1975 and continuing with such probes as the highly successful Mars Global Surveyor.

This observational work has been complemented by a type of scientific computer simulation called the Mars General Circulation Model. Several different iterations of MGCM have led to an increased understanding of Mars as well as the limits of such models. Models are limited in their ability to represent atmospheric physics that occurs at a smaller scale than their resolution. They also may be based on inaccurate or unrealistic assumptions about how Mars works and certainly suffer from the quality and limited density in time and space of climate data from Mars.

Giancomo Miraldi determined in 1704 that the southern cap is not centered on the rotational pole of Mars. During the opposition of 1719, Miraldi observed both polar caps and temporal variability in their extent.

William Herschel was the first to deduce the low density of the Martian atmosphere in his 1784 paper entitled On the remarkable appearances at the polar regions on the planet Mars, the inclination of its axis, the position of its poles, and its spheroidal figure; with a few hints relating to its real diameter and atmosphere. When two faint stars passed close to Mars with no effect on their brightness, Herschel correctly concluded that this meant that there was little atmosphere around Mars to interfere with their light.

Honore Flaugergues 1809 discovery of "yellow clouds" on the surface of Mars is the first known observation of Martian dust storms. Flaugergues also observed in 1813 significant polar ice waning during Martian springtime. His speculation that this meant that Mars was warmer than earth was inaccurate.

Prior to any serious examination of Martian Paleoclimatology one has to agree on terms, especially broad terms of planetary ages. There are two extant age systems for Mars. The first is based on crater density and has three ages, Noachian, Hesperian, and Amazonian. An alternate minerological timeline has been proposed, also with three ages, Phyllocian, Theikian, and Siderikian.

Recent observations and modeling is producing information not only about the present climate and atmospheric conditions on Mars but also about its past. The Noachian-era Martian atmosphere had long been theorized to be carbon dioxide rich. Recent spectral observations of deposits of clay minerals on Mars and modeling of clay mineral formation conditions have found that there is little to no carbonate present in clay of that era. Clay formation in a carbon dioxide rich environment is always accompanied by carbonate formation.

The discovery of goethite on Mars by the Spirit rover has led to the conclusion that climatic conditions in the distant past allowed for free flowing water on Mars. The morphology of some crater impacts on Mars indicate that the ground was wet at the time of impact.

Mars temperature and circulation vary from year to year (as expected for any planet with an atmosphere). Mars lacks an ocean, a source of much inter-annual variation on earth. Mars Orbital Camera data beginning in March 1999 and covering 2.5 Martian years shows that Martian weather tends to be more repeatable and hence more predictable than that of Earth. If an event occurs at a particular time of year in one year, the available data (sparse as it is) indicates that it is fairly likely to repeat the next year at nearly the same location give or take a week.

On September 29, 2008, the Phoenix lander took pictures of snow falling from clouds 4.5 km above its landing site near Heimdall crater. The precipitation vaporized before reaching the ground, a phenomenon called virga.

Mars' dust storms can kick up fine particles in the atmosphere around which clouds can form. These clouds can form very high up, up to 62 miles above the planet.. The clouds are very faint and can only be seen reflecting sunlight against the darkness of the night sky. In that respect, they look similar to the mesospheric clouds, also known as noctilucent clouds on Earth, which occur about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above our planet.

Differing values have been reported for the average temperature on Mars, with a common value being −55 °C. Surface temperatures have been estimated from the Viking Orbiter Infrared Thermal Mapper data; this gives extremes from a warmest of 27 °C to −143 °C at the winter polar caps. Actual temperature measurements from the Viking landers range from −17.2 °C to −107 °C.

It has been reported that "On the basis of the nighttime air temperature data, every northern spring and early northern summer yet observed were identical to within the level of experimental error (to within ±1 K)" but that the "daytime data, however, suggest a somewhat different story, with temperatures varying from year-to-year by up to 6 K in this season.This day-night discrepancy is unexpected and not understood". In southern spring and summer variance is dominated by storms, which can generate increases of 30 °C; more years are needed (currently 5 martian years are available) before meaningful statistics can be made.

The Martian atmosphere is composed mainly of carbon dioxide and has a mean surface pressure of about 600 pascals, much lower than the Earth's 101,000 Pa. One effect of this is that Mars' atmosphere can react much more quickly to a given energy input than can our atmosphere. As a consequence, Mars is subject to strong thermal tides produced by solar heating rather than a gravitational influence. These tides can be significant, being up to 10% of the total atmospheric pressure (typically about 50 Pa). Earth's atmosphere experiences similar diurnal and semidiurnal tides but their effect is less noticeable because of Earth's much greater atmospheric mass.

Although the temperature on Mars can reach above nbk (0 °C), liquid water is unstable as the atmospheric pressure is below water's triple point and water ice simply sublimes into water vapor. An exception to this is in the Hellas Planitia impact crater, the largest such crater on Mars. It is so deep that the atmospheric pressure at the bottom reaches 1155 Pa, which is above the triple point, so if the temperature exceeded 0 °C liquid water could exist there.

The surface of Mars has a very low thermal inertia, which means it heats quickly when the sun shines on it. Typical daily temperature swings, away from the polar regions, are around 100 K. On Earth, winds often develop in areas where thermal inertia changes suddenly, such as from sea to land. There are no seas on Mars, but there are areas where the thermal inertia of the soil changes, leading to morning and evening winds akin to the sea breezes on Earth. The Antares project "Mars Small-Scale Weather" (MSW) has recently identified some minor weaknesses in current global climate models (GCMs) due to the GCMs more primitive soil modeling "heat admission to the ground and back is quite important in Mars, so soil schemes have to be quite accurate. " Those weaknesses are being corrected and should lead to more accurate assessments going forward but make continued reliance on older predictions of modeled Martian climate somewhat problematic.

At low latitudes the Hadley circulation dominates, and is essentially the same as the process which on Earth generates the trade winds. At higher latitudes a series of high and low pressure areas, called baroclinic pressure waves, dominate the weather. Mars is dryer and colder than Earth, and in consequence dust raised by these winds tends to remain in the atmosphere longer than on Earth as there is no precipitation to wash it out (excepting CO2 snowfall). One such cyclonic storm was recently captured by the Hubble space telescope (pictured above).

One of the major differences between Mars' and Earth's Hadley circulations is their speed which is measured on an overturning timescale. The overturning timescale on Mars is about 100 Martian days while on Earth, it is over a year.

When the Mariner 9 probe arrived at Mars in 1971, the world expected to see crisp new pictures of surface detail. Instead they saw a near planet-wide dust storm with only the giant volcano Olympus Mons showing above the haze. The storm lasted for a month, an occurrence scientists have since learned is quite common on Mars. On June 26, 2001, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a dust storm brewing in Hellas Basin on Mars (pictured right). A day later the storm "exploded" and became a global event. This dust storm raised the temperature of the atmosphere of Mars by 30 °C. The low density of the Martian atmosphere means that winds of 40 to 50 mph (18 to 22 m/s) are needed to lift dust from the surface, but since Mars is so dry, the dust can stay in the atmosphere far longer than on Earth, where it is soon washed out by rain. The season following that dust storm had daytime temperatures 4 °C below average. This was attributed to the global covering of dust that settled out of the dust storm, temporarily increasing Mars' albedo.

In mid-2007 a series of planet-wide dust storms posed a serious threat to the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers, greatly reducing the amount of energy provided by the solar panels and necessitating the shut-down of most science experiments while waiting for the storms to clear.

Dust storms are most common during perihelion, when the planet receives 40 percent more sunlight than during aphelion. During aphelion water ice clouds form in the atmosphere, interacting with the dust particles and affecting the temperature of the planet.

It has been suggested that dust storms on Mars could play a role in storm formation similar to that of water clouds on earth. Observation since the 1950s has shown that the chances of a planet-wide dust storm in a particular Martian year are approximately one in three.

The process of geological saltation is quite important on Mars as a mechanism for adding particulates to the atmosphere. Theory and real world observations have not agreed with each other, classical theory missing up to half of real-world saltating particles. A new model more closely in accord with real world observations demonstrates that saltating particles create an electrical field that increases the saltation effect. Mars grains saltate in 100 times higher and longer trajectories and reach 5-10 times higher velocities than Earth grains do.

First detected during the Viking orbital mapping program, cyclonic storms similar to hurricanes have been detected by various probes and telescopes. Images show them as being white in color, quite unlike the much more common dust storms. These storms tend to appear during the northern summer and only at high latitudes. Speculation is that this is due to unique climate conditions near the northern pole.

Methane has been detected in the atmosphere of Mars by ESA's Mars Express probe at a level of 10 nL/L. Since breakup of that much methane by ultraviolet light would only take 350 years under current Martian conditions, some sort of active source must be replenishing the gas. Mars' current climate conditions may be destabilizing underground clathrate hydrates but there is at present no consensus on the source of Martian methane.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images suggest an unusual erosion effect occurs based on Mars' unique climate. Spring warming in certain areas leads to CO2 ice subliming and flowing upwards, creating highly unusual erosion patterns called "spider gullies". Translucent CO2 ice forms over winter and as the spring sunlight warms the surface, it vaporizes the CO2 to gas which flows uphill under the translucent CO2 ice. Weak points in that ice lead to CO2 geysers.

Martian storms are significantly affected by Mars' large mountain ranges. Individual mountains like record holding Olympus Mons (27 km) can affect local weather but larger weather effects are due to the larger collection of volcanoes in the Tharsis region.

One unique repeated weather phenomena involving Mountains is a spiral dust cloud that forms over Arsia Mons. The spiral dust cloud over Arsia Mons can tower 15 to 30 kilometers (9 to 19 miles) above the volcano. Clouds are present around Arsia Mons throughout the Martian year, peaking in late summer.

Clouds surrounding mountains display a seasonal variability. Clouds at Olympus Mons and Ascreaus Mons appear in northern hemisphere spring and summer, reaching a total maximum area of approximately 900,000 km2 and 1,000,000 km2 respectively in late spring. Clouds around Alba Patera and Pavonis Mons show an additional, smaller peak in late summer. Very few clouds were observed in winter. Predictions from the Mars General Circulation Model are consistent with these observations.

The polar regions of Mars, in particular the southern pole, are cold enough for carbon dioxide to condense and form polar ice caps together over the large accumulations of water ice. So much of the atmosphere can condense at the poles in summer and winter that the atmospheric pressure can vary by up to a third of its mean value. This condensation and evaporation will cause the proportion of the noncondensable gases in the atmosphere to change inversely. The eccentricity of Mars's orbit affects this cycle, as well as other factors. In the spring and autumn wind caused by this sublimation process is so strong that it can be a cause of the global dust storms mentioned above.

Mars possesses ice caps at both poles, which mainly consist of water ice; however, there is dry ice present on their surfaces. Frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) accumulates in the northern polar region (Planum Boreum) in winter only, subliming completely in summer, while the south polar region additionally has a permanent dry ice cover up to eight metres (25 feet) thick. This difference is due to the higher elevation of the south pole.

The northern polar cap has a diameter of approximately 1,000 km during the northern Mars summer, and contains about 1.6 million cubic kilometres of ice, which if spread evenly on the cap would be 2 km thick. (This compares to a volume of 2.85 million cubic kilometres for the Greenland ice sheet.) The southern polar cap has a diameter of 350 km and a maximum thickness of 3 km. Both polar caps show spiral troughs, which are believed to form as a result of differential solar heating, coupled with the sublimation of ice and condensation of water vapor. Both polar caps shrink and regrow following the temperature fluctuation of the Martian seasons as well as other processes which are not fully understood.

Mars lost most of its magnetic field about 4 billion years ago. As a result, the solar wind interacts directly with the Martian ionosphere. This keeps the atmosphere thinner than it would otherwise be by solar wind action constantly stripping away atoms from the outer atmospheric layer. Most of the historical atmospheric loss on Mars can be traced back to this solar wind effect. Current theory posits a weakening solar wind and thus today's atmosphere stripping effects are much less than those in the past when the solar wind was stronger.

Mars has an axial tilt of 25.2°. This means that there are seasons on Mars, just as on Earth. The eccentricity of Mars' orbit is 0.1, much greater than the Earth's present orbital eccentricity of about 0.02. The large eccentricity causes the insolation on Mars to vary as the planet passes round the Sun (the Martian year lasts 687 days, roughly 2 Earth years). As on Earth, Mars' obliquity dominates the seasons but, because of the large eccentricity, winters in the southern hemisphere are long and cold while those in the North are short and warm.

Precession in the alignment of the obliquity and eccentricity lead to global warming and cooling ('great' summers and winters) with a period of 170,000 years.

Like Earth, the obliquity of Mars undergoes periodic changes which can lead to long-lasting changes in climate. Once again, the effect is more pronounced on Mars because it lacks the stabilizing influence of a large moon. As a result the obliquity can alter by as much as 45°. Jacques Laskar, of France's National Centre for Scientific Research, argues that the effects of these periodic climate changes can be seen in the layered nature of the ice cap on the planets north pole. Current research suggests that Mars is in a warm interglacial period which has lasted more than 100,000 years.

There have been changes around the south pole (Planum Australe) over the past few Martian years. In 1999 the Mars Global Surveyor photographed pits in the layer of frozen carbon dioxide at the Martian south pole. Because of their striking shape and orientation these pits have become known as swiss cheese features. In 2001 the craft photographed the same pits again and found that they had grown larger, retreating about 3 meters in one martian year.

These features are caused by the dry ice layer evaporating exposing the inert water ice layer.

More recent observations indicate that Mars' south pole is continuing to sublime. "It's evaporating right now at a prodigious rate," says Michael Malin, principal investigator for the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC). The pits in the ice continue to grow by about 3 meters per martian year. Malin states that conditions on Mars are not currently conductive to the formation of new ice. A NASA press release has suggested that this indicates a "climate change in progress" on Mars.

Elsewhere on the planet, low latitude areas have more water ice than they should have given current climatic conditions. Mars Odyssey "is giving us indications of recent global climate change in Mars," said Jeffrey Plaut, project scientist for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in non-peer reviewed published work in 2003.

Colaprete et al. conducted simulations with the Mars General Circulation Model which show that the local climate around the Martian south pole may currently be in an unstable period. The simulated instability is rooted in the geography of the region, leading the authors to speculate that the subliming of the polar ice is a local phenomenon rather than a global one. The researchers showed that even with a constant solar luminosity the poles were capable of jumping between states of depositing or losing ice. The trigger for a change of states could be either increased dust loading in the atmosphere or an albedo change due to deposition of water ice on the polar cap. This theory is somewhat problematic due to the lack of ice depositation after the 2001 global dust storm Another issue is that the accuracy of the Mars General Circulation Model decreases as the scale of the phenomenon becomes more local.

Despite the absence of a time series for martian global temperatures, K.I. Abdusamatov has proposed that "parallel global warmings — observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth some global warming skeptics think this is proof that human are not casing global warming— can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance." Abdusamatov's hypothesis has yet to be published in the peer-reviewed literature, and requires more clarity as to what time period he is referring. His assertion have received mixed review by other scientists, who have stated that "the idea just isn't supported by the theory or by the observations" and that it "doesn't make physical sense." Other scientists have proposed that the observed variations are caused by irregularities in the orbit of Mars or a possible combination of solar and orbital effects.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is currently taking daily weather and climate related observations from orbit. One of its instruments, the Mars climate sounder is specialized for climate observation work.

MetNet is an atmospheric science mission to Mars, initiated and defined by the Finnish Meteorological Institute and scheduled for 2011. The mission includes sending several tens of MetNet Landers (MNL) on the Martian surface. The objective is to establish a wide-spread surface observation network in Mars to investigate the planet's atmospheric structure, physics and meteorology.

MSL is scheduled for 2009, followed by the Mars Scout mission in 2013. Both candidates (MAVEN and Great Escape) for the 2013 mission were to have climate study implications as they are upper atmosphere scientific packages with the MAVEN spacecraft being the final choice.

The People's Republic of China is launching a Mars probe called Yinghuo-1 in 2009. Its mission is not entirely clear but will focus mainly on the study of the external environment of Mars and should thus gain some data of interest to Mars climatologists.

Russia will simultaneously launch Phobos-Grunt on the same rocket. Its destination and main focus will be Phobos but certain Mars climate related data are scheduled to be coming back from this probe as well.

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Source : Wikipedia