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Solar System -- Mars - Part 1

Discussion in 'Education & Personal Growth' started by kkrish, Sep 15, 2017.

  1. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Note: This article is in two parts. The first one is on the planet and the second article is on travel to Mars.

    The information provided in this article is not exhaustive. Please ask questions related to the planet and its missions. This way I can add more information and improve the thread.


    **********************

    MARS
    nasa.jpg
    Image source: nasa.gov

    Of all the planets in our solar system, none has captured our interest and provided fodder for our imagination than our closest outer neighbor, and the fourth planet from the Sun - Mars.

    About half the size of Earth, Mars got its name from the Roman God of War, due to its red appearance. Mars is red because iron minerals in the Martian soil are oxidized giving the planet and its dusty atmosphere the red color.

    Mars spins on its axis just as Earth does and takes about the same time – 24 hours and 39 minutes. A day on Mars is called a “Sol”.

    It has about 1/10 the mass of Earth


    This terrestrial planet is an average 228 million kilometers from the sun - 1.52 AU. We say “average” distance because Mars has an eccentric and an elliptical orbit. At aphelion (farthest point) it is 249 million km and at perihelion (closest point) it is 206 million km from the sun.

    It takes 12 minutes for sunlight to reach Mars.

    How far is Mars from Earth?

    This distance varies. Here’s how.

    • We all know that Mars is further away from the Sun. Therefore its orbit lies further and takes much longer to complete a single lap. In fact it takes Mars two Earth years and two Earth months to complete a single orbit.
    • Both Earth’s orbit and Mars’s orbit are ellipses (oblong).
    • So when Mars is at its perihelion (closest point to the Sun) and Earth is at its aphelion (farthest point from the Sun), Mars and Earth will be the closest – about 55 million kilometers.
    • It is interesting to know that this has never happened in history. The closest the two planets have ever come has been about 56 million km.
    • When both Earth is at its aphelion and Mars is also at its aphelion, they will be on the opposite sides of the Sun and this will be the farthest distance they will be apart – about 401 million km.

    MarsOrbit- rutgersprep.org.jpg
    image source: Rutgersprep.org


    Origin of Mars

    Mars formed about 4.6 billion years ago along with the Earth and the other planets in the Solar system, and was hot.
    • As the heavy iron melted and sank to the center to form the core the lighter silicates formed the mantle and the crust.
    • The young Mars had numerous active volcanoes which spewed lava, water, and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
    • It is believed that Mars once had a thick atmosphere and it was warm enough on the planet to support the existence of liquid water.
    • Today Mars has a very thin atmosphere made up mostly of Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen, and Argon.
    Why thin atmosphere?

    NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution MissioN) has determined that the Martian Atmosphere was stripped by strong Solar winds.

    Findings reveal that every time there was a strong solar storm, a huge chunk of Martian atmosphere would be wiped off. Scientists believe that billions of years ago a large amount of the atmosphere must have vanished when the Sun was younger and had more frequent solar storms.

    Question: If solar storms could strip away Mars’ atmosphere how is it that Earth does not lose its atmosphere to solar winds?
    Ans:That’s because we are protected by the magnetic field.

    Mars does not have a magnetic field – today.

    About 4 billion years ago the planet did have a magnetic field, traces of which are detected in the Southern Hemisphere.

    Why no magnetic field?

    The magnetic field generated by Earth is quite complex in nature. The simple explanation would be that the hot core and its rotation makes our Earth a huge electromagnet.

    However, Mars’ core, because of the planet’s small size, cooled down fast, and was unable to generate the electromagnetic currents required to maintain the super magnetic field to protect itself from the solar winds.

    Question:Well, if lack of magnetic field is the reason for loss of atmosphere, how does Venus, which also does not possess a magnetic field have such a dense atmosphere?
    Ans: That’s because of Venus’ dense gravity helps it to hold on to its atmosphere.

    Another reason why atmosphere on Mars was stripped off is gravity. Mars’ gravity is only 62% that of the Earth’s. A 50kg person on Earth would weigh 19kg; that light.

    gravity.png
    image courtesy: nasa.gov

    Therefore its atmosphere was easily blown away by the strong solar storms that come at a rate of 1000km/hr.


    Feet in spring and head in winter!
    Since Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than the Earth, heat from the sun easily escapes this planet. If you stood on the surface of Mars on the equator at noon, it would feel like spring at your feet (24 degrees C) and winter at your head (0 degrees C).

    WATER

    Water does not exist on the planet today as rivers or streams. However, Hydrogen rich deposits and land structures at many different areas where Mars rovers have explored indicate that water may have existed once upon a time.

    Below is a picture that shows land shaped as a result of water flow

    water .nasa.jpg
    image courtesy: www.nasa.gov

    It is believed that Mars experienced great floods about 3.5 billion years ago. Where the water came from or where it went, nobody knows, yet. Scientists are hoping that the different discoveries from the various missions will help them solve this mystery.

    At present evidence of water is found mainly in icy soil in the Polar Regions and thin clouds.

    In 2015 there developed a hypothesis that briny water flows seasonally but does not stay on the surface for long.


    The below picture shows the timeline between water flow and the new gully deposits.
    water gullies.nasa.jpg
    image courtesy: www.nasa.gov


    Martian Axis

    Though Mars axis today is tilted at 25 degrees (Earth 23.5), Mars’ axis is not stable like our Earth’s. Over billions of years, Mars’ axis has tilted at many angles.

    It is quite possible that when the axis was tilted at a more extreme angle ice caps grew on the planets equatorial region. This may explain why a lot of underground water is discovered beneath the surface at the equatorial region than at the poles.

    If water was present on Mars long ago this leads to the next question: Did life in some form exist on Mars also?

    There is still no evidence that life existed or exists on Mars. MOM- India’s Mangalyaan mission is to find if microorganisms are present on Mars. The mission was sent after observations of spurts of methane being released into the Martian atmosphere. Microorganisms generally produce methane. Mangalyan's mission was to determine if the
    methane is organic or a product of a chemical reaction. Till today no microorganism existence has been confirmed.

    continued in next post (due to pictures limits)...
     
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  2. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    ...contd.

    Some more information on Mars
    • Mars has no rings. However, it is believed that in about 50 million years, Mars will have a ring.
    • Right now Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos.
    • These are not round like our moon. They are actually potato shaped.
    • Scientists think they could be strays from the nearby asteroid belt. It is also believed that these two will never become round because of their small mass. Therefore they have too little gravity to shape themselves up into a ball.
    • Of these two natural satellites, the larger, Phobos is slowly moving towards Mars. It is expected to crash into the planet 50 million years from now and the impact could cause a ring from the resulting dust particles.

    Mars has some records to its credit in the Solar system.

    It is home to the largest volcano in the entire solar system.
    Olympus Mons, towers at a staggering height of 27,000 meters.

    olympus mons - jpl.nasa.jpg
    image source: jpl.nasa.gov

    This is thrice as tall as Mt. Everest. The base of the long dormant volcano is about the size of the state of Arizona.
    Here is a comparative illustration:

    Canadian Space agency (space.com).jpg
    image source: Canadian space agency(space.com)

    It is home to the longest, deepest, and widest Canyon too.
    Valles Marineris. Valles Marineris is long enough to stretch from California to New York -- more than 4,800 km (Grand Canyon is 446 km). It is 7 km (Grand Canyon -1,600 m) deep and 320 km wide (Grand Canyon – 30 km).

    download.jpg
    image source: wikipedia

    Below is the comparative illustration to the Grand Canyon;
    UVA.jpg
    image source: UVA

    This planet has been bombarded by numerous meteors since its formation that in addition to these two there are also lots of interesting meteor craters and rocks.

    Mars’ skies.

    Sunlight on Mars is less intense due to the farther distance compared to Earth.

    Daytime sky in Mars is a butterscotch (yellowish-brown) due to the presence of iron oxide (magnetite) particles in the atmosphere.

    At sunset, though the upper sky is pinkish red, at the lower region, just around the sun, the sky appears blue. This is because the fine Martian dust near the surface of the planet scatters the blue light forward and produces a blue sunset.

    nasa.gov - curiosity rover.jpg
    Image source: nasa.gov (Curiosity rover)

    Mars Seasons

    As Mars axis is tilted away from the sun Just as Earth’s, it experiences all the four seasons just as we do on Earth.

    However there are some differences- there has to be, right?

    Since Mar’s year is 26 months long and it has an eccentric orbit, and a slight difference in its tilt, the seasons
    duration vary. The Southern winters are long and extremely cold while the northern winters and warm and short.

    Many more interesting features on Mars can be observed.

    contd...
     
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  3. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    ...contd. from previous post.

    Here are some interesting features from Mars.
    All images - credit to nasa.gov.

    Niagara falls on Mars

    niagara falls on mars.jpg
    Image source - nasa.gov

    The Ganges Chasma

    The ganges chasma.jpg

    Image courtesy: nasa.gov

    Sulfate deposits

    sulfate deposits.jpg

    Dunes and Winds
    dunes and winds.jpg


    And finally my favorite: Rover climbing atop a mountain.
    Rover is the small blue thingy in the center of the picture. (circled)
    pia21710.jpg
    Image courtesy: nasa.gov.

    Mars indeed is fascinating.

    Thank you

    Information sources: NASA, Universe Today, Space, and various discussions with NASA scientists.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2017
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  4. PavithraS

    PavithraS Platinum IL'ite

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    Thank you Madam @kkrish for a wonderful thread yet again on Space and its occupants! I am going to read this with my son now. :) I am so excited !!
     
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  5. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Thank you @PavithraS
    Happy to know you are going to share this with your son.
    How old is he?
     
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  6. Nonya

    Nonya Platinum IL'ite

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    A story on Mars should also have a chapter on Percival Lowell. And the ophthalmic malady knows as the Lowell's syndrome.

    Here is an excerpt from the wiki entry on Lowell:
    Lowell became determined to study Mars and astronomy as a full-time career after reading Camille Flammarion's La planète Mars.[9] He was particularly interested in the canals of Mars, as drawn by Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, who was director of the Milan Observatory.

    In 1894 Lowell chose Flagstaff, Arizona Territory, as the home of his new observatory. At an altitude of over 2,100 meters (6,900 feet), with few cloudy nights, and far from city lights, Flagstaff was an excellent site for astronomical observations. This marked the first time an observatory had been deliberately located in a remote, elevated place for optimal seeing.[2]

    Canals of Mars[edit]
    Further information: Martian canal
    [​IMG]
    Martian canals depicted by Percival Lowell.
    For the next fifteen years he studied Mars extensively, and made intricate drawings of the surface markings as he perceived them. Lowell published his views in three books: Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908). With these writings, Lowell more than anyone else popularized the long-held belief that these markings showed that Mars sustained intelligent life forms.[10][11]

    His works include a detailed description of what he termed the 'non-natural features' of the planet's surface, including especially a full account of the 'canals,' single and double; the 'oases,' as he termed the dark spots at their intersections; and the varying visibility of both, depending partly on the Martian seasons. He theorized that an advanced but desperate culture had built the canals to tap Mars' polar ice caps, the last source of water on an inexorably drying planet.[12]

    [​IMG]
    Craters on the Mars surface (frame 11) imaged by Mariner 4 as it flew by Mars in 1965
    While this idea excited the public, the astronomical community was skeptical. Many astronomers could not see these markings, and few believed that they were as extensive as Lowell claimed. As a result, Lowell and his observatory were largely ostracized.[13] Although the consensus was that some actual features did exist which would account for these markings,[14] in 1909 the sixty-inch Mount Wilson Observatory telescope in Southern California allowed closer observation of the structures Lowell had interpreted as canals, and revealed irregular geological features, probably the result of natural erosion.[15]

    The existence of canal-like features was definitively disproved in the 1960s by NASA's Mariner missions. Mariner 4, 6, and 7, and the Mariner 9 orbiter (1972), did not capture images of canals but instead showed a cratered Martian surface. Today, the surface markings taken to be canals are regarded as an optical illusion.[16]

    Venus spokes[edit]
    [​IMG]
    Percival Lowell in 1914, observing Venus in the daytime with the 24-inch (61 cm) Alvan Clark & Sons refracting telescope at Flagstaff, Arizona
    Although Lowell was better known for his observations of Mars, he also drew maps of the planet Venus. He began observing Venus in detail in mid-1896 soon after the 61-centimetre (24-inch) Alvan Clark & Sons refracting telescope was installed at his new Flagstaff, Arizona observatory. Lowell observed the planet high in the daytime sky with the telescope's lens stopped down to 3 inches in diameter to reduce the effect of the turbulent daytime atmosphere. Lowell observed spoke-like surface features including a central dark spot, contrary to what was suspected then (and known now): that Venus has no surface features visible from Earth, being covered in an atmosphere that is opaque. It has been noted in a 2003 Journal for the History of Astronomy paper and in an article published in Sky and Telescope in July 2003 that Lowell's stopping down of the telescope created such a small exit pupil at the eyepiece, it may have become a giant ophthalmoscope giving Lowell an image of the shadows of blood vessels cast on the retina of his eye.[17][18]

    Some of Lowell's hypotheses were used in early sci.fi movies about martians.
     
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  7. kaniths

    kaniths IL Hall of Fame

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    An older version of a map of Mars surface that I stumbled upon only recently. Dumping in this thread for anyone interested.

    IMG_1872.JPG


    This stunning map of Mars reveals the Red Planet’s geology in unprecedented detail, giving us a new understanding of the red planet’s fiery history.

    The map combines 16 years’ worth of observations from four orbiting spacecraft: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    It is the first global geological map of Mars since the Viking orbiter’s effort in 1987 – which you can stroll through on Google Earth. It reveals that much of the Martian surface is older than previously thought, and confirms the planet was geologically active until recently.

    Download the epic poster-sized map at the US Geological Survey website.

    - via Newscientist
     
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  8. PavithraS

    PavithraS Platinum IL'ite

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    Madam he is just 5+ but he has always shown interest in space and all that hangs out of it :) . In fact we just finished reading the posts together and he was explaining to me what you have posted ! He told the distance between Mars and Sun in miles as compared to the kilometer scale you have used in the post. He put it as 144 million miles and I checked in google and found it to be a lot closer figure of 141.6 million mile ! He also mentioned the name of Mars' volcano as Olympus Mons and I found it to be correct after reading your second post of the thread. He also says that if a planet's atmosphere is gone, it will become frozen.

    Thank you for a wonderful and educative post.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2017
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  9. justanothergirl

    justanothergirl IL Hall of Fame

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    Dear Kamala @kkrish what a wonderful narrator u are with an amazing talent to read the readers -mind.
    I had questions popping into my head..
    " why no atmosphere" "oh but magnetic field cant be the only thing"..but before I could even fully form the questions in my head u were there with answers.
    superb article as always .Look forward to the next one :)
    There goes the plan to relocate to Mars :BangHead: I was getting carried away there for min about the joys of weighing oneself in a planet like Mars.:cheer:
     
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  10. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Thank you @Nonya
    That was informative.

    Should have?:grinning-smiley-048::D
     

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