Fact One:
Of all the planets in the Solar System, Mars is the one people believe is most likely to contain or to have contained life. In 1900, a prize was offered to the first person to be contact an extra-terrestrial being. However, this extra-terrestrial being was not allowed to come from Mars because that would make the competition too easy! In 1938, a radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (a story about an invasion of Earth by Martians) caused a near panic in America because so many people believed it to be true.

Fact Two:
The largest volcano in the Solar System is on Mars. It is called Olympus Mons.

Fact Three:
Mars has polar caps like Earth, containing frozen carbon dioxide (and small amount of water).

Fact Four:
Mars is believed to have had water flowing around it like Earth once. It may have had a blue sky too. However, it is unlikely that it had grass, trees and plants like Earth has now.

Fact Five:
The Valles Marineris, the greatest gorge on any planet in the Solar System, was caused when volcanoes erupting around it tore up the land, leaving a huge valley.

Fact Six:
We can see how long Mars has been a 'dead' planet by the number of meteorite impacts on its surface. In comparison, Earth and Venus have fewer impact craters because they have newer surfaces formed by recent geological activity.

Fact Seven:
Mars has seasons like Earth. This is caused by the tilt of the planet's axis, at a similar angle to the tilt of Earth's axis.

Fact Eight:
The Sun appears about half the size on Mars as it does from Earth.

Fact Nine:
The first space probe to take pictures of Mars' surface (Mariner 4 in 1964) is still in space, orbiting the Sun. Still orbiting Mars itself are Mariner 9 (launched in 1971), Viking 1 and 2 (launched in 1975), the Mars Global Surveyor (launched in 1996, which is currently looking for the Mars Polar Lander, launched in 1998) and the Mars Climate Orbitor (launched in 1998 to orbit Mars in 1999). These are American space probes.

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun and is almost half the size of Earth. Mars orbits the sun at an average distance of 227,936,640 km. A full orbit around the sun takes around 687 Earth days. At 24.7 hours, a day on Mars is only slightly longer than a day on Earth.

The surface of Mars has undergone many changes due to volcanism, impacts from other bodies, movements of its crust, and atmospheric effects such as dust storms. The dust storms can reach tremendous proportions. Recent Hubble images have shown the whole surface of the planet covered with a massive dust storm. Polar ice caps are present on Mars. These ice caps increase and decrease in size depending on the season.

Mars has some remarkable geological characteristics, including the largest volcanic mountain in the solar system, Olympus Mons (27 km high and 600 km across); volcanoes in the northern Tharsis region that are so huge they deform the planet's roundness; and a gigantic equatorial rift valley, the Valles Marineris.

Mars has two small moons, Phobos and Deimos. It is uncertain how they formed, but it is believed that they may be asteroids that have been snared by Mars' gravity.

Mars: Facts & Figures

* Average Distance from the Sun: Metric: 227,936,640 km
* Perihelion (closest): Metric: 206,600,000 km
* Aphelion (farthest): Metric: 249,200,000 km
* Equatorial Radius: Metric: 3,397 km
* Equatorial Circumference: Metric: 21,344 km
* Mass: 641,850,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg
* Volume: 163,140,00,000 km3
* Density: 3.94 g/cm3
* Surface Area: 144,100,000 km2
* Equatorial Surface Gravity: 3.693 m/s2
* Escape Velocity: 18,072 km/h
* Length of Day: 24.62 hours
* Length of Year: 686.93 Earth days
* Mean Orbit Velocity: 86,871 km/h
* Orbital Eccentricity: .0934
* Orbital Inclination to Ecliptic: 1.8 degrees
* Equatorial Inclination to Orbit: 25.19
* Orbital Circumference: 1.366,900,000 km
* Min/Max Surface Temperature: -87 to -5 °C
* Atmospheric Constituents: Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen, Argon
* Number of Moons: 2

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