Mars, it's where aliens come from, a Hollywood Sci-Fi mainstay, the mysterious red planet. But, what is Mars really? Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, orbiting 227, 940, 000 km away. It's diameter of 6, 794 km and mass of 6. 4219 e 23 kg, makes it the seventh largest planet in our solar system. Mars, which is the Greek name for the god of War, probably got this name due to it's red color, and is often referred to as the red planet. What makes Mars look red? Mars' atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, which oxidizes iron on the planet's surface to create rust.

Because there is very little water vapor on Mars, dry winds pick up and blow the dust around the planet, coloring it red. What would you see if you went for a nature walk on Mars? Among the surface features are giant volcanoes and vast canyons. The largest volcano in the entire solar system is on Mars, Olympus Mons. It is classified as a shield volcano, similar to the volcanoes in Hawaii.

Olympus Mons, three times higher than Mount Everest, is twenty-five kilometers high, surrounded by a 550 kilometer moat filled with lava. The Valles Mariner is canyon is 4500 kilometers long and reaches seven kilometers deep and 600 kilometers across. There are also many meteorite impact craters. Why couldn't you take a nature walk on Mars? The atmosphere is not only very thin, it's made almost completely of CO 2 and known for its raging dust storms.

You would get very thirsty, the only water on the surface of Mars is locked into small ice caps at each pole. You would be very chilly, the average surface temperature on M arsis a cool -55 C, -67 F, but range from -133 C, -207 F at the winter pole to a warmer 27 C, 80 F on the day side during summer. Scientists believe, from the information gathered by the Viking spacecraft, long ago, when the volcanoes were active Mars had a thicker atmosphere, which allowed liquid water to run in rivers, lakes and seas. This is evidenced by valleys undoubtedly caused by running water.

This makes the Sci-Fi preface of life on Mars not so far fetched. Once the volcanoes became extinct the once thick atmosphere leaked away, leaving only the thin carbon dioxide filled air. The water either boiled away or froze intothe ground, thus the polar ice caps contain a mixture of frozen water and CO 2. Mars is indeed a planet in a deep freeze! Even though you wouldn't want to take a nature walk on Mars, it is more like Earth than any other planet and will be the next planet on which man sets foot. Again, maybe those Sci-Fi guys know more than we think.

Astronauts will have to wear specially equipped space suits to provide breathable air and protection from solar radiation. The suits will have to be heated to protect them from the extreme cold. They would definitely need to bring their "Tang" as I definitely wouldn't recommend drinking the water! Evidence of organic compounds were discovered recently in a Marian meteorite. This further suggests that these compounds, in conjunction with a number of mineralogical features observed in the rock, may be evidence of ancient Martian microorganisms. Exciting as this is, it is important to note while this evidence is strong it by no means establishes the fact of extraterrestrial life. It will however give a whole new generation of Sci-Fi writers new and believable story lines..