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Mars

Someday people will stand on the surface of another


planet. That planet will probably be Mars. Maybe
you’ll be one of the people to go!

Mars is one of the brightest objects in the night sky.


It looks like a reddish star. The ancient Romans
named Mars after their god of war because it was
the color of blood. The red planet is the next planet
out from the Sun after Earth. Of all the planets in the
solar system, Mars is the most like Earth.

WHAT IS MARS LIKE?


Mars is a small, rocky planet much like Earth. Pictures of
the surface of Mars sent back by spacecraft look like
deserts on Earth.

Mars is about half the size of Earth, but its land area is
about equal to Earth’s land area. That’s because Mars has
no oceans. Mars does have water, however. Some of the
water is frozen in icecaps at the planet’s north and south
poles. Scientists also think there may be a lot of water
frozen underground.

A day on Mars is just a bit longer than a day on Earth.


Mars even has seasons! Although Mars is much colder
than Earth, on the warmest summer days it gets up to
about 60° Fahrenheit (15° Celsius). That would be a very
pleasant day on Earth.

STANDING ON MARS
Rocks and red, dusty soil cover the Martian surface. You
feel light—you can jump higher and throw a ball farther
than you can on Earth. Gravity, the force that holds you to
the ground, is weaker on Mars than it is on Earth.

There’s a pinkish sky overhead, perhaps with a wisp of


cloud. At night you see two tiny moons above you. The
moons are named Phobos and Deimos. There might be a
breeze blowing, but you cannot breathe the air. The air on
Mars is very thin. It does not have much oxygen, the gas
you need to breathe.

GIANT-SIZED LANDSCAPE
Mars may be a small planet, but many of its natural
features are bigger than similar features on Earth. That’s
because the weaker gravity on Mars doesn’t make huge
mountains collapse or pull steep canyon walls down. The
red planet has enormous volcanoes. The biggest volcano
in the solar system, Olympus Mons, is on Mars. It is 16
miles (26 kilometers) high. That’s more than twice as high
as Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth! The base
of Olympus Mons would cover the state of Arizona.

Mars also has enormous canyons. Valles Marineris, a


group of connected canyons, would stretch from New York
State to California on Earth! Valles Marineris is more than
4 miles (7 kilometers) deep in places. The Grand Canyon
is just a ditch compared to that!

There are also enormous channels on Mars that look like


dried up riverbeds. Scientists think that Mars once had
lakes and rivers. They think that once there were big
floods on Mars. The floods carved the channels. Mars is
very dry today, however. Scientists are trying to figure out
what happened to the water.

Mars has dust storms that sometimes engulf the entire


planet. The giant storms can blow for months. The
planet’s lower gravity allows the dust to float up in the air
for a long time. The dust makes the sky pink.

HOW DO WE LEARN ABOUT MARS?


Scientists called astronomers look at Mars through
telescopes. The best pictures of Mars come from the
Hubble Space Telescope. This telescope orbits in space
high above Earth.

Several countries have sent spacecraft to visit Mars. Some


of these spacecraft landed on the red planet. In 2004, the
United States landed a pair of robot rovers named Spirit
and Opportunity on Mars. Rovers have wheels. They can
roll around and look at rocks. They send pictures and
other information back to Earth. Spirit and Opportunity
found strong evidence that Mars once had liquid water.

IS THERE LIFE ON MARS?


So far, scientists have not found anything alive on Mars.
They think that the surface of Mars is too cold and
poisonous for life. They wonder if there is life
underground. Perhaps Martian life forms live in cracks in
the rocks.

Scientists also wonder if there was life on Mars in the past.


Mars was once warm enough to have liquid water in lakes
and rivers. Living things need water.

Mars is cold now because its air is so thin. Earth is warm


enough for life because its air traps heat from the Sun.
Scientists wonder if the air around Mars was once thick
enough to trap heat from the Sun.

COULD PEOPLE LIVE ON MARS?


If people ever live on other planets, Mars will probably be
the first one they move to. Some scientists and
government officials want to send astronauts to Mars.

Other scientists and officials do not think that sending


people to Mars is a good idea yet. They think it is best to
keep exploring the red planet with better robot rovers.
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