(IAAC) Mars : the @stro object for the week of 03/27/2000

@stro object of the week
drafted by the @stro pages
the week of 03/27/2000
highlighted this week: Mars
Mars. The planet Mars gets its name from the Roman god of war. Mars is the
fourth planet from the Sun and is one of the "terrestrial planets". Mars has
a reddish hue brought about by the high amount of iron oxide (rust) in its
soil and the dust in its atmosphere.
Mars is easily visible with the naked eye when viewable from Earth and has
been known about for countless millennia. Our understanding of the nature of
Mars has made leaps and bounds since it was announced by nineteenth century
astronomer Percival Lowell that Mars had water canals which crossed its
surface and subsequent claims by others that Mars was a lush paradise with
intelligent life. Lowell was incorrect - there are no water flows on Mars
today, but there is evidence of past water flows and floods in the form of
the erosion the water left behind.
Mars continues to be the focus of intense research and the recipient of
several spaceprobes beginning with Mariner 4 in 1965. These probes have
beamed back information about this mysterious planet, but many questions
still remain. Most notable of these questions is whether there was ever
past, or even present, life on the planet. Space travel to Mars, like the
other planets, remains fairly treacherous and far from routine as evidenced
by the failure of two of the most recent of these Martian spaceprobe
missions, NASA's Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter missions. There
have been some spectacular successes however, such as the Mars Pathfinder
rover and the Mars Global Surveyor missions. Other missions to Mars are in
development including a plan to return Martian soil to Earth for analysis.
Human spaceflight to Mars remains a goal that many world space agencies
envision, even possibly within the next two decades.
Some other interesting facts about Mars:
-  Martian geology has produced some interesting features on Mars, such as
Olympus Mons, which is the largest known mountain in the solar system, and
the infamous "Face on Mars" that has since turned out to be just another
eroded plateau in better images provided by Mars Global Surveyor.
-  Mars has a diameter of 6794 kilometers (4221 miles) compared to Earth's
12756 km (7926 mi). However, the Martian land surface area is equivalent to
Earth's since there is no ocean water to submerge the land.
-  Mars has two moons named Phobos and Deimos.
-  It has permanent polar ice packs.
-  The Martian surface shows clear signs that wind and water related erosion
has taken place. Present day erosion is caused by wind.
-  Mars has radical climate temperature differences spurred on by an
elliptical orbit around the Sun, among other things. This elliptical orbit
produces a temperature variation as high as 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).
While Mars does have a thin cloud layer it lacks a thick atmosphere to hold
in and regulate heat. Although the average temperature is around -55 C (-67
F) it can vary on the planet from -133 C (-207 F) at the poles to 27 C (80
F) on a summer day.
Current information for Mars (North America):
Rise: 06:39 PST
Set: 21:07 PST
Magnitude: ~1.4
Constellation: Aries
more info from SEDS...
pictures of Martian cloud formations from STSCI...
more info on the Mars Pathfinder Rover mission...
more info on the Mars Global Surveyor...
the image used for this article...
Clear skies,
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