Mars is the fourth planet from the sun. Orbiting at a distance of 228 million kilometers this planet has two moons: Phobos and Deimos. These two small moons are likely captured asteroids.

Mars is approximately half the size of the earth and has a red characteristic color, which comes from the dust covering the surface.

It is the last of the terrestrial planets (earthlike), which also include mercury, venus, and earth.

The planet has since the 19th century been a source of mystery. In 1877 the astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported that he had seen some linear structures on the surface of the planet. He called these structures ‘canali’. The Italian word was incorrectly translated to the English word ‘channel’ by some people. It did not take long before the idea of intelligent life on mars gained a foothold.

Satellite imagery and rovers sent to mars have been able to conclude that there is no such life on mars. Though recent discoveries suggest that mars once was different and harbored water in liquid form.

Space probes have revealed that there are many interesting formations on the planet, like craters and inactive volcanoes. A very interesting formation is ‘Valles Marineris’, sometimes called “The grand canyon of mars”. Below is some information about some regions on Mars. To the right, you can click to view a map of the Martian surface.

Valles Marineris

Valles Marineris, ‘the grand canyon of mars’ is a system of canyons located south of the martian equator. The system is about 4000 km long and in some places about 8 km deep. The Grand Canyon in Arizona is about 800 km (500 miles) long and 1.6 km (1 mile) deep. If it would exist on earth, it would extend all the way across the United States. Please see Space Art 2 for space art (wallpaper version) of Valles Marineris.

There is some uncertainty as to how this giant formation was created. Though many scientists would agree that Valles Marineris is a large tectonic crack in the martian crust, which formed when the planet started to cool down during the creation process. Valles Marineris has probably been shaped by many mechanisms other than the uplifting of the Tharsis region, such as subsurface ice melting, causing surface collapse. This crack got larger as the Tharsis region started to elevate (the Tharsis region is close to Valles Marineris and has an unusually high elevation). The crack was magnified by erosion from wind, and probably water too.

Labyrinthus Noctis

Labyrinthus Noctis, “the labyrinth of the night” is connected with the Valles Marineris formation as an extension and consists of a very large area of canyons. It has a characteristic maze-like shape of deep, steep-walled valleys. It’s about 1 000 km long. Labyrinthus Noctis is near the Tharsis region, which is a crest of a large (many thousands of kilometers) upcoming of the martian crust.

Tharsis Region

The Tharsis region is highly elevated and contains four “shield volcanoes”: Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, Arsai Mons, and the largest: Olympus Mons. The area is about 4 000 km wide and is elevated at about 10 km in height (see below for information on Olympus Mons). A shield volcano is a volcano with a broad, gentle slope and built by the eruption of fluid basalt lava. The name comes from a perceived resemblance to the shape of a warrior’s shield.

All the volcanoes in the Tharsis region seem to have cooled off and are inactive, though the region has affected the formation of the Valles Marineris area earlier. The four volcanoes are collectively known as the “Tharsis Montes”. Space Art 4 displays a view of the Tharsis region and the three volcanoes Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Arsai Mons, with Labyrinthus Noctis in the foreground.

Olympus Mons

Located in the Tharsis region, this giant volcano measures 24 km in height and is about 550 km in diameter. It is the tallest known (inactive) volcano in the solar system. Though it is so high, it would not be difficult to climb (due to the great width). The slope is often only a few percent.

If you were to go to the top of the volcano, you would literally be standing in space. Space Art 5 demonstrates what Olympus Mons would look like from orbit, 350km above the surface.

Phobos and Deimos

Discovered in 1877, by Asaph Hall, Phobos and Deimos are two small, asteroid-like moons of mars. Phobos means fear, and Deimos means terror. Measuring 13.4×9.2 km (8.3×5.7 miles) and Deimos at 7.5×5.2 km (4.7×3.2 miles), they are very small compared to Mars’ size. Phobos has many craters on them, of varying size, while Deimos has a smaller amount of craters and is partly covered with dust.

Phobos orbits about 9 400 km away from Mars and is the larger of the two, while Deimos orbits at a distance of about 24 000 km. Phobos is locked in a “death spiral” towards Mars, which means that it will eventually crash into the planet or be torn apart and create a temporary ring because it orbits within the Roche limit of Mars (a Roche limit is the limit which an object can orbit another object without getting torn apart by the tidal forces).
Some astronomers believe that they captured asteroids as mars are close to the asteroid belt. The main reason why they think so is their very small size compared to the planet.