On November 26, 2011, the rover called Curiosity was launched into space from Cape Canaveral. Nine months later, after a 350 million mile journey, it landed safely on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on the planet Mars to much celebration and cheering from Nasa. NASA released new photos of the planet on Tuesday.
No ideas what a rover is? Scroll to the bottom of this post.
While on Mars, Curiosity will be investigating the planet’s geology and climate and we’ll begin to look at the big question of whether or not Mars could have ever supported life — looking into the role of water and the planet’s habitability.
So now is a pretty good time to review what we already know about Mars because we’re about to be learning a lot more about the fourth planet from the sun. If your interested in outer space and the great unknown – make sure to check out some of our educational and fun jigsaw puzzles about space.
Fun Facts about Mars
- Mars is named after the Roman god of war because of its red color. Other civilizations also gave the planet names based on appearance—Egyptians called Mars “the red one” (“Her Desher”) and ancient Chinese astronomers referred to it as the “fire star.”
- In reality, Mars’ color appearance is a result of the fact that Mars has a lot of iron in its soil.
- Mars is the only planet whose surface can be seen in detail from Earth because it is our nearest planetary neighbor
- The diameter of Mars is 4,200 miles—a little over half the diameter of Earth
- Mars is home to the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons, which tops out at 15 miles high—three times the height of Mount Everest! Its diameter is even more impressive: it’s 370 miles, enough to cover the entire state of New Mexico
- Mars also has the deepest, longest valley in the solar system, Valles Marineris, which can go as deep as 6 miles and runs east-to-west for about 2,500 miles (the distance from Phiadelphia to San Diego).
- The Martian “day” is about a half hour longer than Earth’s day, and Mars orbits the sun every 687 Earth days.
- At its brightest, Mars loses only to Venus, which outshines it
- Mars is covered in valleys and canyons, so it’s very possibly Mars was once home to large amounts of surface water which now do not exist due to its cold, thin atmosphere
- Scientists believe the climate of Mars used to be a lot like our climate on Earth—warm and wet.
- Mars has seasons just like Earth because also just like Earth, Mars has an axis that tilts in relation to the sun.
- Mars’ seasons are more extreme because its orbit is elliptical and more elongated than any other major planet’s orbits.
- The average temperature on Mars is about -80°F, though it can drop to -191°F during the coldest periods and rise to 70°F during the hottest at the equator.
- Mars has two moons, Phobos, meaning “fear,” and Deimos, meaning “rout.” In the Greek version, Mars is named Ares, and his sons are Phobos and Deimos. This is where astronomer Asaph Hall came up with the names.
- Mars holds another record in the entire solar system: it has the largest dust storms. These can blanket the entire planet and last for months!
Soon we’ll be compiling an even larger list of things to know about the red planet. In the meantime, keep updated on the newest photos of Mars – we’ve never seen in this type of close up, high quality image.
What is a Rover, anyway?
From Wikipedia: A rover (or sometimes planetary rover) is a space exploration vehicle designed to move across the surface of a planet or other astronomical body. Some rovers have been designed to transport members of a human spaceflight crew; others have been partially or fully autonomous robots. Rovers usually arrive at the planetary surface on a lander-style spacecraft. Their advantages over orbiting spacecraft are that they can make observations to a microscopic level and can conduct physical experimentation. Disadvantages of rovers compared to orbiters are the higher chance of failure, due to landing and other risks, and that they are limited to a small area around a landing site which itself is only approximately anticipated.