MARS is the most intriguing planet.

From Earth, it exhibits the largest brightness variations
of any planet and has the most distinctive color (red/pink). Telescopes revealed it to be the most Earth-like planet, with a transparent atmosphere, varied terrain, polar caps, and seasonal changes. Although Mars is smaller than Earth, it has no oceans, so its land area is comparable to Earth's. Space missions have revealed fantastic topography, including the largest canyon and the largest mountain in the solar system. Finally, for over 100 years, Mars has been the favorite candidate for another biosphere. Claims about "canals" on Mars had tremendous impact on popular culture. The canals were illusions, but recent evidence for possible fossil lifeforms and for abundant water on its surface in the past finally have given real credence to speculations about life on Mars. Consequently, Mars is now under intense scrutiny by spacecraft for evidence of a favorable habitat (now or in the past).

A. Mars: Introduction
Small: 50% Diam(Earth); 10% Mass(Earth) Orbit: Semi-major axis 1.5 AU. Orbital period 1.88 yr. "Oppositions" every 2.1 years Mars' orbital ellipticity (10%) implies a large variation in distance & brightness at opposition. See diagram at right. (Click for a different illustration.)  It is a very conspicuous, red-pink object when brightest (hence its association with the God of War). Mars can be brighter than Jupiter. Atmosphere: thin. Mass ~1% Earth's. Mainly CO2; some H2O Surface: easily visible since CO2 is transparent. Has been explored in ever increasing detail by Earthbound telescopes and by spacecraft, including landers and rovers.
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Mars' red color is caused by iron oxide compounds such as hematite on its surface. This is equivalent to rust(!). Other conspicuous markings include white polar caps and large dark areas, some appearing greenish to the eye in a telescope. Mars is distant enough even at opposition that telescopes on Earth yield relatively poor resolution. This led to a long and controversial history over whether or not there was evidence for "canals" or other artificial features on its surface. (See Section C below.) The image below was taken from Earth orbit by the Hubble Space Telescope and shows the main kinds of features visible from Earth.

C. Percival Lowell and Canals on Mars
Astronomer Percival Lowell devoted his career & his observatory (ca. 1890-1915) to study of features on Mars' surface which he believed to be artificial canals engineered by an advanced civilization for survival on a desert planet. He made numerous sketches using a medium-sized

close-up images from spacecraft proved there to be no artificial structures on Mars. straight-line features crossing the planet's face emerge during brief moments of atmospheric stability. and dust-laden atmosphere of Mars. Lowell map can be seen here. Martian topography has been surveyed by many spacecraft (see above). canyons.telescope (at left. For illustrations. The pink/orange dust is very fine. The canal enthusiasts claimed to have seen the sharp. Wells' War of the Worlds. . It turns out that few of the enormous real topological features on Mars---such as the mountains. now reaching an accuracy of about one meter. Winds carry it easily across the surface. There is good evidence for water and possibly primitive lifeforms on Mars in the distant past (discussed below)---but not for civilizations. Instead. Good scientists will resist this. many careful observers were never able to see them. the patterns conspicuous from Earth are large-scale differences in albedo caused by surface dust and mineral deposits. Lowell's efforts to popularize the idea of civilizations on Mars had a great impact on the public imagination. The "canals" are an object lesson in dealing with marginal evidence. Another. But the canals are optical illusions!.   The image above shows the main topographic features of Mars. Martian Topography Mars features an amazing landscape. and a tidal wave of subsequent science fiction and fantasy stories (see Study Guide 18). Click for a larger view. G. They will honestly assess the uncertainties in the situation and will withhold judgement until the evidence improves. However. an example of a Lowell sketch is at right). causing continuous small changes in appearance. ASTR 1210 Mars Images Page. craters. a very common situation in science: There is a great temptation to overinterpret marginal data and to try to force them to conform to preconceived ideas. mountains. D. They were the stimulus for H. The image at right illustrates the red color. caused by the color contrast between reddish and grey-brown areas. and craters revealed by spacecraft imaging---are even visible in Earth-based telescopes. Lowell was not the only astronomer claiming to have seen the canals. the prototype story of alien invasion. They were never photographed even with the largest Earth-bound telescopes Beginning in the 1960's. An example of the best maps of Mars produced by Earth-based telescopes before the first spacecraft imaging was obtained in the 1960's is shown here. click here or on highlighted items below. The visibility of any such features is strongly affected by the blurring effects ("seeing"---see Study Guide 14) of the atmosphere. plains. It bears little resemblance to modern topographic maps produced by orbiting spacecraft (and it shows no evidence of the multiple canals claimed by Lowell). much more detailed.  "Green" markings are likewise an optical illusion. created by the tendency of the human brain to link threshold markings together.

Independent sources of evidence concerning water: SNC meteorites (see Guide 17). All are dormant now. with soil-sampling scoop. its images of changing droplets are possible evidence for liquid (saline) water. The Phoenix lander (2008). Water ice melts at a higher temperature than CO2 ice. But Mars' surface is not broken into tectonic plates. 30 times smaller than on Earth but much larger than on Venus] Layered terrain is evidence for sedimentary rocks Erosion channels are evidence of massive floods at some time in the past. .    Impact Craters: widely distributed with more in the southern hemisphere. o This qualifies as proto-tectonic activity. and mantle activity has been dormant for most of the last 1 Byr. They imply catastrophic floods. Evidence for Water on Mars Click for illustrations. Large permafrost reservoirs of water under surface? Melted by volcanic activity? Flooding possible cyclic.000 ft altitude). Instead. perhaps one billion years ago.000 times the outflow of the Amazon River      Evidence for ocean basins Radar evidence for water ice layers buried thousands of feet deep under the Martian poles.10. o Olympus Mons is the largest mountain in the solar system (85. so any ice visible between the two melting points must be water ice.     No open bodies of water now Long known to be some water ice at poles. The Hellas Basin is the largest impact crater. 100 -. created during Tharsis upwelling. Polar caps: the caps in winter are a mixture of frozen CO2 and H2O. dusty. 1-2 Byr ago o The plume's effect was concentrated into a huge uplift region because there was minimal motion of the crust past the plume. They melt and refreeze with seasonal change. detected subsurface ice crystals. Trace of water vapor in atmosphere [in percent. Volcanos: 5 large "shield" volcanos plus a number of smaller ones. weathered. Not produced by water (though some "tributary" canyons may be). Water is present in the soil and rocks now. All the evidence points to large amounts of water in the past. like the African Rift Valley. o Origin of OM & other "Tharsis bulge" region volcanos: upwelling of a mantle plume. Valles Marineris: largest canyon in solar system. E. see Study Guide 17) find mineralogical evidence for water. VM is a surface rift. The largest Martian flow channels are much larger than on Earth. Lander missions (5 to date. which is therefore older.

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