Mars - The Red Planet

Mars – The Red Planet

Ever wondered why Mars looks like a giant red ball?

Mars is called the “Red Planet” because of the rust-colored appearance it takes on in the night sky. 

Folklore among the ancient Greeks and Romans named the planet after the god of war because of the color; evidence based on radiation data from Earth suggests that the Martian rust is made of iron oxide.

About Mars

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, following Mercury, Venus, and the Earth. It is smaller than the Earth and orbits the Sun at an average distance of 228 million kilometers, about half that of the Earth. 

This means visitors could suffer from extreme cold. During warm summers, the average temperature around the equator is a bone-chilling 63 degrees Celsius below zero — comparable to the average temperature in Antarctica’s winters. It is also quite cold at night.

[P.S. I honestly don’t know how Elon Musk is going to manage to create an actual colony there.]

Humans that are the first to land on Mars will have plenty to think about. The air is 100 times thinner than on Earth, composed primarily of carbon dioxide, and the planet has no magnetic field, which means there’s no protection from radiation from space. 

In order to do that, the human explorers will have to wear oxygen masks and special suits every time they go outside their sealed homes.

Powerful storms can stir up clouds of dust sometimes spreading these clouds around the entire planet hiding its features from view.

Why Mars Looks Red To Us?

When we see pictures of Mars, red is the color we should associate with iron rusting. Rocks and soil on the surface of Mars contained iron, not to mention that they were covered in dust composed mostly of iron and small amounts of other elements such as chlorine and sulfur. 

Recent evidence suggests that the very fine dust on the planet is spread by water as well, as backed by the presence of channels and other formations.  

The dust particles may then grow due to the presence of complex organic compounds that are able to be formed by sunlight shattering apart the nearby rocks into small particles.

The dust containing iron reacted with the oxygen, producing a rust color, and at the same time, the sky turned red from storms dispersing the dust throughout the atmosphere. This regolith layer is sprinkled with a mixture of crushed rock that sits between a few millimeters and two meters deep. 

The crushed rock just under the layer dates back to the end of the last ice age. The high iron concentration is partly responsible for Mars’ red coloring.

The sky looks blue in Raleigh thanks to Rayleigh scattering, so the blue light tends to scatter in all directions, making it look bright to us from all around. But the sky does not appear blue on Mars. 

Pollution in the atmosphere makes the sky appear red because dust scatters the red photons. We have something similar when there’s pollution or smoke in the air.

Wait, there’s more…

There’s something strange about this, though. 

On Mars, you can observe a blue sunset. 

Dust in the air absorbs and deflects the red light from the sunset, so it’s the blue photons streaming from the sun that come through it must be amazing to witness a sunset on Mars with your own eyes. I hope that someday someone has the opportunity to do so.

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