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Facts about Mars
Mars is the 4th planet in increasing distance from the Sun, and is the last of the terrestrial, or rocky, planets. One day on Mars is equal to one day and 37 minutes Earth time. It takes 687 days to orbit around the Sun. It is half the size of Earth, and has a thin atmosphere which causes large temperature fluctuations. Mars is red because of rust, or Iron Oxide. Mars rock is basaltic rock, which is quite mafic (rich in iron). Thus, basaltic rock, which is usually gray/black, easily becomes red colored because the iron in the rock forms rust with the oxygen in the atmosphere. However, oxygen is less than 0.5% of the atmosphere of Mars, with 95% being Carbon Dioxide. Thus, it is theorized that Mars had much more Oxygen in its atmosphere in the past. This atmosphere could have been lost due to Mars not having a magnetosphere of its own. For reference, a magnetosphere is a magnetic field around a planet formed by the metals within the planet’s core. This magnetic field protects against things like the solar wind, which eliminate an atmosphere. Finally, Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. These are very tiny moons. Phobos rotates faster than Mars and is expected to collide with Mars in a few million years.
Surface of Mars
Mars has a rocky surface like Earth, and also has mountains, craters, and volcanoes. An interesting feature is that their is a significant elevation difference between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. The Northern Hemisphere is much lower than the Southern, though it is much younger(formed by volcanic activity). The Tharsis bulge is the a large bulge of volcanoes on Mars, home to the largest volcano Olympus Mons. Valles Marineris is a large crack on mars 200 km wide and 4000 kilometers long. Mars has barchan dunes, which are sand dunes that make a crescent shape because wind blows in one direction, and even dust devils which are like small tornadoes of dust. Like Earth, Mars has a rocky surface, with the Northern Hemisphere
The Atmosphere of Mars
Mars has a thin atmosphere, it is 0.6% of Earth’s atmosphere. This atmosphere is composed 95% of Carbon Dioxide, with the vast remainder being Nitrogen Gas. Other gases that compose the atmosphere include Argon, Oxygen, Carbon Monoxide, Water, and Nitrogen Oxide. Winds are common from this atmosphere and can cause things like the dust devils discussed above. Infrequently, these dust devils can form on a global scale. Finally, because of the thin atmosphere and the large distance to the Sun, Mars stays relatively cold. Even though the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, which we know is a major greenhouse gas, this is by percent, not by quantity. Since the atmosphere itself is so little, the amount of carbon dioxide is small itself.
Every post I do was intended to have a for educators section, but when it comes to an individual planet, I do not think it is necessary. Each planet should only be discussed briefly, when teaching astronomy, its more important to give the big picture and get people attracted to astronomy. As such, I am going to skip this section for most of the planets. I think a short talk about each planet is sufficient. If you have anything you’d like in this section, please let me know.
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