Tidbits delivers what you need to know about Mars, “The Red Planet.”

There’s a specific name for the scientific observation and study of the planet Mars, Areology. The word has its roots in the name of the Greek god of war, Ares, the son of the Greeks’ chief deity Zeus and his wife Hera.    Its Roman equivalent is Mars. Both cultures associated the planet with war because its color resembled the color of blood. Ancient Chinese astronomers referred to it as “the fire star,” while the Egyptians called it “Her Desher,” meaning “the red one.”

    When the ancient Babylonians first created the week, dividing it into seven days, they named each day after a heavenly body. Tuesday is the “day of Mars.” The name of the month of March is also derived from Mars.

Mars’ red color is due to the large amounts of the mineral iron oxide found in the rocks and soil on its surface. Its reddish color makes it possible to spot Mars with the naked eye at night from Earth. Galileo first observed Mars in 1609 with a basic telescope.

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    Mars is the second smallest planet in our solar system. Only Mercury is smaller. Mars’ diameter at its equator is 4,222 miles (6,794 km), about 53% the diameter of Earth. Yet the area of its surface is about equal to the area of Earth’s landmass. The difference in size is because a large part of the Earth’s surface is covered by water.

    Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, about 143 million miles (230 million km) away. Earth’s distance from the Sun is about 93 million miles (150 million km).

    Gravity on the planet is about 38% of Earth’s, meaning that if you weigh 100 lbs. on Earth, you would weigh 38 lbs. on Mars (45.4 kg / 17.2 kg).

• While the temperature on Mars might reach a maximum of 70 degrees F (20 C), its average temp is about -80 degrees F (-60 C). It can drop as low as -200 degrees F (-128 C). Because of Mars’ very thin atmosphere, it can’t preserve the small amount of heat it gets from the Sun.

    Most of Mars’ atmosphere, about 95%, is carbon dioxide. There’s just a tiny amount of oxygen, about 0.145%. Its low atmospheric pressure is the reason why liquid water can only exist on the surface for a very short time. Yet the planet has ice on its north and south polar regions, made up of air that freezes during winter.

    A day on Mars is 24 hours and 37 minutes, almost the same as a day on Earth. However, a year is almost twice as long, 687 days, due to the fact that Mars is farther away from the Sun and it takes a longer time for it to orbit that star.

    Mars is home to the tallest mountain in the solar system, Olympus Mons. It rises 85,000 feet (26 km) above the surface, about three times taller than Mt. Everest. The solar system’s longest and deepest canyon is also on Mars, Valles Marineris, four times deeper than the Grand Canyon and six times longer.

In 1975, NASA sent up the first two spacecrafts with the specific objective of studying the surface of Mars. Viking 1, launched on August 20, took the first photograph of Mars from its surface on July 20, 1976. Viking 2 was launched September 9, 1975.