Life on Mars

Red planet: Mars gets its colour from a mineral called iron oxide, better known on Earth as rust.

Astronomers have found proof that there are at least four lakes of water beneath the rocky surface of the planet. Some say we are closer than ever to finding life — what would it be like?

  • What is Mars?

    It is a planet in our solar system. A solar system is a collection of planets that orbit around a star. Our star is the sun. Mars is the fourth planet away from it, after Mercury, Venus and Earth.

    Even though Mars is our neighbour, it is about 34 million miles away. However, because the planets orbit around the sun differently, the planets are sometimes much further apart – as much as 250 million miles.

  • How big is it?

    Mars is much smaller than Earth. The distance from the centre of the planet to the surface is about 2,000 miles – almost half of our planet. Mars also has far less mass than Earth.

    Mars has seasons just like we do, but they are much longer. This has nothing to do with size – it’s because Mars is further away from the sun. The longest season on Mars is Spring, lasting 194 days.

  • What is it like on the surface?

    Like Earth, Mars is terrestrial – it’s rocky with man craters and mountains, not a gas giant like Jupiter or Saturn. But on its surface, Mars is very different from our home planet. It gets its red colour from iron oxide. It is also very dry; there are terrible dust storms that last for months and cover the whole planet.

    There is also far less gravity on the surface of Mars, meaning we would be able to jump three times higher than we can on Earth.

  • How do we know so much about it?

    Because we have done many tests. The first spacecraft to come close to Mars was in 1965, when a satellite flew past the planet and took a photograph. Since then, there have been 16 successful missions to Mars.

    At the moment, there are two active objects on Mars – the Curiosity and InSight. They roam the surface of the planet learning about it. Other spacecraft orbit above, taking photographs to send back to Earth.

  • Have we found life there?

    Not yet. But last week, scientists made a breakthrough. They announced that there are at least four underground lakes of water. This is a huge breakthrough because water could help some form of life exist on Mars.

    However, the water is probably extremely salty and freezing cold. More tests are needed to find out if anything lives in them — and what it could be.

  • Could humans move to Mars?

    Elon Musk thinks we could. He has promised to grow a rose on Mars. His company has plans to build a whole city on the red planet with one million inhabitants.

    The journey to Mars takes 9 months. After arriving, visitors would have a very different life. Mars has little oxygen and freezing temperatures. Special buildings and clothes would need to be created to help humans survive.

You Decide

  1. If you had the chance, would you go and live on Mars?

Activities

  1. Design a spacesuit for an astronaut to wear on a trip to a distant planet. Draw it and create labels explaining everything it can do.

Word Watch

Solar system
Solar is a word describing anything that has something to do with the sun. So, our system of planets is a solar system. Energy that we get from sunlight is called solar power.
Orbit
An orbit is the path that a planet or spacecraft follows in a circle around something else, like another planet or a star. To orbit is the verb used to describe this journey.
Mass
This is all about how much matter there is in an object. It is not the same as weight, which is all about gravity. For example, if something weighs 100g on Earth, it weighs 35g on Mars. But its mass stays the same.
Terrestrial
Relating to the ground or land.
Gas giant
A large planet that is not very dense. It is mostly made up of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter is the largest gas giant in the Solar System.
Iron oxide
An orange-red powder made when the metal iron reacts with oxygen and water. This happens when iron gets wet, which is why things go rusty.
Gravity
Gravity is a force of attraction. It is the force that pulls you towards the centre of the Earth, keeping you to the ground. Every object in the universe has a gravitational pull, some are much stronger than others.
Satellite
An artificial object placed in orbit round the earth or moon or another planet in order to collect information or for communication.
Elon Musk
The founder of Tesla and SpaceX. His space programme recently sent a private rocket to the International Space Station.

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