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This page is about the planet. For the Roman God see Mars (mythology).

Basic Information

Mars, the Red Planet is the fourth closest planet to the Sun in our solar system, lying between Earth and Jupiter. It is 34 million miles from Earth. The orbits of the two planets means that the best opportunity for a short trip to Mars from Earth happens once every two years. Even then, with our current technology, it takes about 7 months to cross the gap.

Mars is a Terrestrial Planet with an Iron core. In fact, Iron is one of the most common elements found on Mars. Rusting iron colors the rocks, the dust, even the atmosphere, and gives Mars the nickname "The Red Planet".

Climate, Weather, and Water

Ice has been found on Mars at poles, and also just beneath the surface. The polar caps are made of Dry Ice. Water ice exists in the Martian Permafrost, and thus probably in Aquifers. Images from one of the craters now show what appears to have been some water flow within recent years - but that that flow quickly evaporated. Mars has a very thin atmosphere, and is extremely cold. The combination of no pressure and cold temperature means that liquid water can only exist for brief moments of time and only in certain situations. Typically, the ice turns straight to gas without ever becoming a liquid, via a process called Sublimation (chemistry). In order for liquid water to exist for more than a few moments on Mars' surface, it would need a thicker atmosphere. However, because Mars has a very minimal magnetic field, it's atmosphere is regularly blasted away by Coronal Mass Ejections from the Sun. This makes Terraforming Mars a complicated proposition.

The temperature of Mars can get as low as -100oF at night. The clouds are mostly composed of Carbon Dioxide. Windstorms are frequent, including Dust Devils that race across the surface.

There is also an Avalanche Season on Mars.

Notable Regions, Features, and Satellites:

Mars is much smaller than the Earth, but has geological features that dwarf those found on our world.

Man-Made Objects On or Orbiting Mars

Surface Objects Orbiting Objects Origin Arrival
Mars 2 and Mars 3 Landers Mars 2 and Mars 3 Orbiters USSR 1971
Mariner 9 United States 1971
Mars 6 USSR 1973
Mars 5 USSR 1974
Viking 1 & Viking 2 landers Viking 1 & Viking 2 Orbiters United States 1976
Phobos 2 USSR 1989
Mars Pathfinder lander & Sojourner (rover) Mars Global Surveyor United States 1997
Mars Climate Orbiter, Mars Polar Lander & Deep Space 2 United States 1999
2001 Mars Oddyssey United States 2001
Beagle 2 (mission lost, landing status unknown) UK / ESA 2003
Mars Express ESA 2003
Spirit rover (MER-A) and Opportunity rover (MER-B) United States 2004
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter United States 2006
Phoenix (spacecraft) United States 2008
Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity) United States 2012
Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) India 2014
MAVEN United States 2014
Schiaparelli EDM Lander ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter ESA / Russia 2016
InSight Lander USA 2018

Mars in Fiction:

Early and Traditional:

Until quite recently, it was not appreciated that Mars would not support life in any meaningful fashion - indeed, astronomers thought they were able to pick out what appeared to be a network of vast canals criss-crossing large parts of the surface and apparently connecting to what appeared to be large lakes or seas. Other apparent structures included a huge "face" and at least one set of pyramids. These led to the idea of Mars as a predominately desert planet inhabited by a civilisation organised enough to build this huge water distribution network and other large structures. This was popularised by writers such as Edgar Rice-Burroughs in his John Carter novels, featuring an American soldier transported to the Red Planet.


Most modern sci-fi considers Mars as being a logical first step for human colonization of space and thus explores a variety of themes from the cycle of colonial growth and independence, to terraforming and the challenges thereof. More fringe sources toy with relics of precursor civilisations left from an era when Mars might have been able to support life - some of these include Easter Egg tributes to older fiction (itself a recursive "precursor" theme).

See Also:


3. NonFiction TV: The Universe from The History Channel

Game and Story Use

  • Given the Face On Mars (and other features in the Cydonia region), and the presence of ice/water (that was detected and acknowledge by the ESA several years before NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander found it), it's a natural for any game with conspiracy theories.
  • It's also the likely site of our likely first colony on another planet.
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