Mars,  named after the
Roman god of war and oftentimes referred to as the "Red Planet," orbits
at an average distance of 227,939,100 kilometers or 1.52 AU—1 AU being the mean
distance between the Sun and Earth—placing it at the outer boundary of the Solar
System’s habitable zone;  while a diameter of 6,792
kilometers makes it the seventh of the planets in
in literature and made the home of both fictional and imaginary
civilizations by great science fiction writers such as Robert A.
Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, H.G.Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs and one great
if somewhat over-exuberant astronomer Percival Lowell, Mars is in truth
a prime candidate for life of some sort—and if the resolve of those
involved in the search is any indicator the truth should be forthcoming
in the relatively near future.
great many spacecraft/exploratory vehicles et al have visited Mars but it was
on July 4,1997, that a technological milestone and planetary first
became reality when the Mars Pathfinder successfully landed in Ares
Vallis, opened, and allowed a mobile rover called Sojourner to begin
examining the surrounding terrain. This was followed by the Mars
Exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which were successfully
delivered to the planets surface and began controlled exploration in
2004—Spirit was active until March 22 2010, Opportunity until June 10, 2018, far outliving their expiry dates—by the Phoenix Mars Lander in 2008, a stationary device designed to
search for environments suitable for microbial life and confirm the
presence of subsurface water ice, by Curiosity in 2012, the largest—the size of a small car, most sophisticated and technologically
advanced rover to date  and finally NASA's InSight probe which touched down on 26 November
2018 on Elysium Planitia. This latest probe, basically a robotic geologist, will study
the deep interior of Mars in an attempt to learn how it and other rocky
planets formed more than four billion years ago.
with high resolution cameras, spectrometers and other scientific
equipment these solar/nuclear powered robots are sending back
invaluable information and incredible images. This information along
with that being gathered by orbiters such as Mars Express, Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and now newcomers MAVEN and MOM is
part of an ongoing process which slowly but surely is uncovering Mars'
secrets. (New additions to the mix, ExoMars [Exobiology on Mars] 2016, a collaboration
between ESA and Roscosmos arrived in October 2016. The mission's aim,
according to ESA, is to determine "whether Mars is alive".) 
search for water both on and below the surface is a high priority. Its
presence in significant amounts is of paramount importance to future
human exploration and eventual colonization of the planet. In fact a
vast frozen sea has been discovered in Mars’ Elysium region, covered in
dust and other detritus it appears to be less than five million years
Express cleared up one misconception with its high resolution cameras,
when it sent back pictures of the “Face on Mars” first observed by
Viking 1 in 1976 and the subject of much hype and controversy. The high
resolution images remove all doubt about the mysterious formation,
confirming its natural origin. Alas there are no eyes, nose or mouth;
it's just a play of light and shadow, an optical illusion. The face is
a natural geologic feature.
“Face” aside Mars does have a number of incredible landmarks: Olympus
Mons, a shield volcano, is roughly 600 km in diameter (an area the size
of Arizona) with a height of 22 km (local relief), and a total
elevation change, from the plains to the northwest to its summit, of
almost 26 kilometers. Valles Marineris, the largest known crevice in
the Solar System, is a 4,500 km long series of canyons in places 7 km
deep. (Earth's Grand Canyon is 446 kilometers long and 1.6 kilometers
deep.) Hellas Planitia a large crater in the southern hemisphere is 6
to 7 km deep, over 2,000 km in diameter and was probably formed by an
asteroid impact some 3.9 billion years ago. (The Arizona Meteor Crater
is 1.2 km in diameter and 173 meters deep.)
has a new scar, a fresh impact crater discovered recently on the
Elysium Planitia plain by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Astronomers
believe it was created between February of 2012 and June of 2014. The
debris field suggests the impacting body struck from the west.
majority of Martian meteorites (shergottites) found on Earth are
thought to have originated in the Mojave Crater, a 34 mile (55 km) wide
basin located on the Red Planet's equator.
has a very thin atmosphere (about 1 percent of Earth's)  composed mainly
of carbon dioxide with small amounts of oxygen, water, nitrogen and
argon. The average surface temperature is -63 degrees Celsius, the
maximum, a balmy 20 degrees Celsius.
has two moons: Deimos and Phobos.
 Before taking
on the attributes of the Greek god Ares, the Roman god Mars was a god
This designation does not necessarily mean that Mars harbors life,
being inside a star system's habitable zone is just one of many factors
that influence a planetary body’s ability to sustain and nurture life.
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Fla., November 26, 2011, its destination and date of arrival
Gale Crater, Mars, early August 2012. Curiosity, its rover, is twice as
long (3 meters or ten feet) and five times heavier than either Spirit
or Opportunity its payload ten times as massive. Powered by a
radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), that converts heat from
the decay of plutonium-238 into electricity, the semi-autonomous
vehicle is capable of traversing long distances (comparatively
speaking) and is expected to have a 2 Earth years (1 Martian year) or
longer operating lifespan. The MSL mission's primary objectives are to
determine whether Mars has ever supported life, study its climate and
geology and gather data for future manned missions.
05:17 UTC on August 6, 2012, Curiosity landed safely on Aeolis Palus in
Gale Crater, its orientation confirmed (following a fourteen minute
delay) by transmitted images taken by the vehicle's Hazcams (hazard
several weeks of engineering checks Curiosity was deemed fit to travel.
On August 22, 2012, it took its first "baby steps" ending up about 20
feet (6 meters) from the landing site, the site given the name
"Bradbury Landing" in honor of the late great Ray Bradbury science
fiction icon and author of The Martian Chronicles, the entire episode
taking approximately 16 minutes.
February 28, 2013, having traveled half a mile and while begining an
analysis of pulverized rock at Glenelg, a point of convergence for
three types of geologic formations, Curiosity's first major drive
destination and the location of its debut drill site an outcrop named
"John Klein," the rover suffered a glitch and was placed in safe mode
with all its activities suspended pending a resolution.
early March, the malfunction, a problem with flash memory, was fixed
with the switching of the A-side and B-side computers as primary, and
Curiosity once again functional was almost ready to go until sidelined
on March 16 by yet another anomaly.
NASA engineers, apparently
having overcome the latest setback, returned the rover to active status
on March 19.
analysis of the rock sample, a fine-grained mudstone once part of a
body of water that wasn't too acidic, oxidizing or salty, appears to
show ancient Mars had all the prerequisites neccessary to support (in
the form of micro-organisms) life. Or as John Grotzinger, Mars Science
Labratory project scientist at Caltech, talking about a time three
billion years ago, states it was "so benign and supportive of life that
probably if the water was around and you had been on the planet, you
would have been able to drink it."
remains, however, that simply because ancient Mars may have had regions
conducive to life does not mean that life existed, nor, wishfull
thinking aside, that life on the Red Planet exists today. In fact a
lack of methane (a byproduct of life) as per atmospheric testing by
Curiosity, has been greatly disappointing to the scientists involved.
time we looked, we never saw it," said Christopher Webster, of NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory who led the research published online in the
journal Science; adding that while the result was "disappointing in
many ways" the hunt for the elusive gas continues. (Michael Mumma of
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center previously noticed a mysterious
burst of methane from three regions in Mars' western hemisphere. Mumma,
who had no role in the latest study, said he stood by his observations.)
an oft harrowing two year journey Curiosity has finally arrived at
Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) the central peak within Gale Crater and its
long-term prime destination. It has now now began a slow ascent,
drilling into and analyzing rocky material as it goes. The team, still
hopeful, are searching for signs of carbon-based (organic) molecules
considered the chemical building blocks of life.
 After a succesful
separation from its mothership—the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)—the
ExoMars Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing technology demonstrator
module was lost during an attempted landing. The mothership contiues with its primary mission the
search for lfe. The second part of the Exo mission has
been delayed untill 2020, the next optimal launch window.
 If you're wondering as to the fate of Mars' atmosphere. According to NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution [MAVEN] probe it's being thinned by the solar wind, atoms and molecules stripped away to
eventually dissipate in space.
* On January 3, 2013, a comet was discovered at a distance of 7.2 AU by
veteran comet hunter Robert H. McNaught using the 0.5-meter (20 in)
Upsalla Southern Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, New
South Wales. Named Siding Spring (more formally C/2013 A1 Siding
Spring) after the observatory, it was thought at first to be on a
collision course with Mars. A little number crunching revealed this to
be incorrect, but it would be a close-run thing: Mars, in fact, would
pass through the comet's tail. Orbiters were moved to the far side of
the planet to protect them from possibly damaging debris, and rovers
(for the most part protected by the Martian atmosphere) were positioned
accordingly. On October 19, 2014, Siding Spring, visitor from the Oort
Cloud, sped by Mars at 56 km per second (126,000 miles per hour) its
closest approach about 88,000 miles (140,000 km). Interaction between
the two bodies was minimal.
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