Dec 142017
An interesting and informative text file on the planet Mars.
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An interesting and informative text file on the planet Mars.
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"S fhada an gladeth bho lochodha"
Gaelic quotation found on a 12th century
tombstone, translation: "And they shall
behold a far-off land"


To the ancient observers of the night sky there were, among the
thousands of fixed points of light, six objects that moved. Five
were brighter versions of the fixed points of light and were given
the title PLANETS, from the Greek word "to wander". The sixth
object was the moon.

One of the five wandering objects had a distinctive bloody color to
it and for this reason it was given the name of one war god or another.
To the Sumerians, who were probably the first civilization to record
astronomical phenomena, this object was called NERGAL. To the Greeks
who came along centuries later it was called ARES; and to the Romans
who borrowed from the Greeks, it was called MARS. To all it was a
planet that cast a light considered evil. Its symbol consists of
a shield and a spear. In time it was given temples, statues, epic
poems, and even a day of the week. The third day of the week in the
Roman calendar was referred to as Mars Day. Other peoples used variations
of this word. For example the Germanic tribes referred to this day
as "Tiw" or "Tiw's Day", which in English became "Tuesday".

Mars and the other planets were thought to cast controlling light
upon the Earth, and it was important to know where each object was
in the sky. Exact measurements were kept and predictions made
out of the data. The study of these positions and the predictions
made out of the data was called Astrology, the science of the stars.

Over the centuries of observing the red planet, very little real
information was added prior to the invention of the telescope.
It was noted that Mars, as well as Jupiter and Saturn, moved back
and forth among the stars in sort of a looping pattern. But this
phenomena was not understood and only added to the mystery. Mars
refused to follow a predictable pattern! Mars also had one other
strange thing about itself: it varied its brightness from year to

The first real breakthrough in understanding Mars came from the
insight of Nicholas Copernicus, whose book (published in 1543)
established a pattern to planetary motion and placed Mars as the
fourth planet from the sun.

Around the end of the 16th century, Tycho Brahe tackled the problem
of Mars and its strange motion. He made the most accurate measurement
prior to the invention of the telescope of the apparent motion of Mars.
Yet he offered no conclusions as to why it behaved this way. This
answer was to come from his assistant, Johannes Kepler. Kepler
studied Brahe's data and added to it his own observations for years
before coming up with the explanation. Planetary motion
was the result of the path each object took as it moved around the
Sun. This path was not a perfect circle as was believed, but an ellipse.

Those were exciting times in Europe. The lives of these three
men make for interesting, fascinating reading, for each was unique and,
to say the least, colorful.

The next breakthrough came with the invention of the telescope.

To Galileo, whose telescope was too weak to reveal much, Mars
wasn't very exciting. At best it was a small reddish/orange
colored disc devoid of features. He did, however, conclude that
Copernicus was correct in his scheme of things, and that Mars was,
indeed, the fourth planet from the Sun. This conclusion was based
on the fact that Mars was outside the Earth's orbit and always
presented a full disc. An object that orbits the Sun like Mercury
inside the Earth's orbit goes through phases just like the moon does.

The first real map of Mars was made in 1659 by a brewmaster turned
astronomer named Huygens. He used a large awkward instrument,
and with it was able to draw features on his maps. By observing
the motion of these features, he was able to determine the rotational
period of Mars of 24.5 hours, a figure that is quite close to
the exact figure.

By the end of the 18th century, the English astronomer Herschel
(discoverer of the 7th planet) found that Mars had ice caps at the
poles. This, along with its rotational period, made people
think that Mars was but a small version of Earth. The dark
areas observed were assumed to be seas or land masses, and the
thinking was that Mars, like Earth, was alive! Yet almost a
century would elapse before the next discoveries were made.

The year was 1877, a big year for Martian discoveries. That
year Mars made one of its closer approaches, and astronomers world
wide turned their attention and instruments toward it. Two
men stood out in their observations. Giovanni Schiaparelli,
an Italian who drew the best maps to date, and Asaph Hall,
an American who discovered that Mars had two moons.

Here again are two people whose lives make for interesting
reading. It was Schiaparelli who gave us the idea that Mars
had canals, and it was Hall who showed how patient one must be
to make discoveries. Once the idea of Martian canals was circulated,
almost everyone was seeing them, and Mars was assumed for sure
to support not only life, BUT intelligent life!

Mars became the passion of a wealthy Boston amateur astronomer
named Percival Lowell. Lowell eventually moved his passion to
Arizona with its clearer skies where he built an observatory
devoted to the study of Mars. It is somewhat ironic to note
that much of what he discovered there and published would later
be proven incorrect. Yet there was to be a spinoff from all this:
it was his organization that would later pursue and eventually
find the 9th planet. This planet was to be named Pluto, whose
first two letters are in remembrance of Percival Lowell.

Other Martian discoveries had to await new tools. By 1900
the spectroscope led astronomers to conclude that Mars had a
thin atmosphere. By 1930 heat sensitive instruments allowed
us to take Mars' temperature. There were times, during the
summer days near the equator, that readings of 60 or 70 degrees F
were found. But the Martian nights and the winters had
readings that were well below zero. All this could prove tough
to life as we know it. The question of Martian life still
remained a challenge to people, and the only way to answer it
was to go there. This had to wait until the space age.


Rotation period: 24 hours 37 minutes

Length of year: 687 Earth days
668.6 Mars days

Perihelion Mars Earth
128,000,000 91,200,000

Aphelion 154,400,000 94,300,000

The orbit of Mars is more elliptical than any other of the inner
planets except Mercury. It differs by more than 26 million miles
from its closest approach to the sun to its farthest. If Venus
were this elliptical, its orbit would cross Earth's.

Axis tilt: 25.2 degrees

Name: Roman god of war

Surface gravity: .38 that of Earth's

Atmosphere of Mars: CO2 95%
N2 2.7%
Ar 1.6%
CO .6%
O2 .15%
H2O .03%

Atmosphere of Earth: N2 78.1%
O2 20.9%
H2O varies from .05% to 2%
Ar .9%
CO2 .03%

Martian air pressure at the surface is .007 that of Earth. This is
like being l00,000 feet above sea level.

Diameter: Mars 4,222 miles
Earth 7,926 miles

The highest point on the surface of Mars is the top of Olympus
Mons, a volcanic feature more than 78,000 feet from top to bottom.

Moons: 2

Phobos: means "Fear" discovered by Asaph Hall on 8/12/1877
Size: 17X14X12 miles, irregular shape, resembles an
old very dark potato. An object with a velocity
of 15 mph will go into orbit around Phobos.

Deimos: means "Terror" discovered by Asaph Hall on 8/17/1877
size: 10X7.5X6 miles, also shaped like an old spud.
The orbital velocity for Deimos is 7 mph



It is early in the 21st century. The exploration of Mars
has begun in earnest. It has been decided to establish an outpost
on Mars similar to the one set up on the moon a few years earlier.
This base was in turn modeled after the bases set up in Antarctica
in the 20th century. Imagine setting up the first Martian base.

Objective: Students will function as a committee and map out the first
base on Mars.

Materials: Poster sized paper
Overhead transparency material
Marking materials for both surfaces listed above

Procedure: Establish groups of students into small committees of
4 to 6 students each. Explain that their goal is to lay out the
first base on Mars. This base is to function as an exploratory
outpost and will be staffed with a population of between 25 and
40 individuals. Each building must be named, and labeled as to
its function and number of personnel responsible for that building's
function. For example the communications building might be called
MARSCOM which is short for Mars Communication Center. It is staffed
with 3 personnel, plus equipment which consists of a 3 meter
steerable antenna, 1000 watt transmitter, and three (2 for
backup) computers for image and data storage and processing. Each
person works an 8 hour shift, thus covering a full day.

The overhead transparency can be used to present the final layout
of the base to the class as a whole, or the final version can be
simply displayed on the bulletin board. The advantage of the
overhead is that it allows the students to develop verbal
communication skills.

Problems to consider:
What to do with waste materials
Landing area for transport vehicles
Emergency facilities
Recreation facilities

Variation: Some students may want to make their Martian base in
model form with cardboard or papier mache structures. Remember the
red soil.

To finish the project, design flag and crew patch for your base.


The year is......, well you fill in the blank. It's rather hard
to be specific with the future. Sometime in the future, Mars will
be accessible, and there will be people traveling there. Imagine
how a travel agency might promote a trip to the Red planet.

Objective: To illustrate some aspect of the uniqueness
of Mars through art.

Materials: Poster sized paper
Colored markers

Procedure: Design a poster to sell people on the idea of
perhaps taking a job on Mars, similar to the sort of posters
that promote the military as a job possibility. Discuss the
sort of occupations that will most likely be needed to set up
and maintain an outpost on Mars. For assistance, visit a
travel agency and look at the sort of posters that are used to
sell the idea of taking a vacation to some exotic place.
When you look at the landforms of Mars, you will see that
there are no shortages of exotic places there. Note how few
words are utilized in selling an idea in travel posters.

Variation: Design a vacation poster to Mars.
Concentrate on the unusual landforms.

Post the finished product.


We are now used to being able to communicate instantly with
anyone on the face of the Earth. This is because our messages
travel at the speed of light, and at that speed (186,000
miles per second) no place on Earth is distant enough to
notice the delay. The astronauts on the moon experienced
some slight delays, but not enough to cause any problems.
However a trip to Mars presents a whole new problem, as
the distance messages have to travel increases, and the time
required for these communications increases.

For instance, a spacecraft one million miles out, in route
towards Mars sends a voice message back to Earth. This message
would take about 5 seconds just to reach here, then you
have a reaction time to that message and another 5 second
delay to reach the spacecraft. This adds up to more than
ten seconds.

To illustrate this problem, set up a conversation between
two people with a ten second delay. This can be done in
several ways, perhaps using written messages having to be
passed to another person.

The problem increases as the distance increases. When the
spacecraft reaches five and a half million miles from Earth
there would be a delay of a full minute. At this point,
communication becomes somewhat awkward. To illustrate this
problem try doing a question and answer session.

For a spacecraft on the surface of Mars or in orbit around
Mars the delay is much longer. Depending on the relationship
of the two planets to each other there can be as long a delay
as 30 to 40 minutes involved. Try a setup that uses this
sort of delay and see if you can maintain continuity of

Because of the increased delay people will be facing a new
dilemma: how to maintain communication and trains of thought.
Have the students discuss some of the problems which could
develop out of this situation, and come up with options
for dealing with those problems.

To get a better understanding of the delays involved prepare
a table showing the min. expected time delay for a given
distance. To calculate time delay, divide the distance by
186,000. Then figure in the listening and reacting time
factors for the message and add to this the first figure you
derived by dividing the speed of light factor.

Example Table:
Distance in Miles Time Delay Time Delay Round Trip
(In millions) One Way

1 5.38 sec. 11+seconds

5 26.8 sec 54+seconds

Complete this table by going in increments of 1 million
miles up to 10 million, then use 5 million increments up
to 50 million and finish off in 10 million increments till
you reach 120 million miles.


Mission Date RESULTS

Mariner 4-U.S. 7/65 Returns 20 photographs, shows no canals!

Mariner 9-U.S. 11/71 Goes into orbit around Mars,
Produces first good maps,
Discovers volcanic features and an
extensive canyon system.

Mars 2-USSR 11/27/71 Lands on surface but returns no data

Mars 3-USSR 12/2/71 Lands on surface, transmits for 20 sec,
no usable data, is thought to have fallen over.

Viking 1-U.S. 6/19/76 Achieves Martian orbit
7/20/76 Lands on surface, begins transmitting data

Viking 2-U.S. 9/3/76 Lands on surface, begins transmitting data

Phobos 1-USSR 7/7/88 Launched towards Mars
Loss of contact with spacecraft mid Sept.

Phobos 2-USSR 7/12/88 Launched toward Mars.
1/29/89 Arrival at Mars


From time to time each country's postal system issues special
commemorative stamps to pay tribute to some event or person.
The collection of these special stamps is one of the most
popular of hobbies. Since the space age began, hundreds of
stamps have been issued to commemorate various space related
events. The following exercise uses the subject of Mars to

Objective: Using art to teach science! Have the students
design a commemorative stamp to illustrate some aspect of
the history of exploring the red planet.

Materials: Paper 8 1/2 by 11, white
Colored pens or pencils

Procedure: Research out the exploration of Mars from the early
pre-telescope days to the modern spaceage era. Design a
commemorative postage stamp to illustrate some important period
or person. Students can even go back to the days that astrologers
watched the movements of Mars. For assistance, take a look at
present day commemorative issues by the Postal Service.
Don't forget to make the outline unique to postage stamps and
above all don't forget the value of the postage. i.e. 10 cents
or 30 cents.

Variation: Turn really creative minds loose on the idea of
commemorating some event of the future in the exploration of

Another variation could be to illustrate some unique aspect
of Mars. Research out the Martian landforms for examples.

Share the results--post them. (no pun intended)

The People of Mars

Over the years certain people have added to our knowledge of
the planet Mars. Each is unique in his own right, and each
lived in unique times, not always conducive to the art of
exploration. The following is a short list of people who
contributed much to our understanding of Mars. Each is a
valid subject for a report, which in turn helps to develop
library skills as well as written skills. However, to be
a complete report, do not just present the person, look at
the conditions of the time, for without that element, each
person is just a name!

The report should include the following items:
Time of the person, date of birth & death.
General history of the time period. i.e.
political climate, quality of life, or what was
America like at that time. What sort of tools
were available to the astronomer at that time?
Unusual personal traits, each person has some
unusual quirks by our present day standards--find them!

Here are some interesting tidbits about the explorers of Mars.

Tycho Brahe had a metal nose. He built an observatory
in one of the worst possible places-why?

Kepler-his assistant had all sorts of family problems.
For starters his mother was arrested for witchcraft, which
tells you something about the political climate he lived in.

Galileo didn't do much for Mars, but he did a great deal
for the science of Astronomy.

Christiaan Huygens had a lot to do with clocks and beer,
not to mention making the first map of Mars to show any
features. What kind of telescope did he use? Why
can't you buy one like it today?

Giovanni Cassini's name is associated with another planet,
but he helped figure out the length of a Martian day.

William Herschel made thousands of discoveries, yet he
wasn't even an astronomer at first and couldn't buy
a telescope, so he made his own and they were the best
in the world at that time!

Johann Schroter added much to the knowledge of Mars
yet he did more for the study of asteroids.

Giovanni Schiaparelli began the controversy of Martian

Rev. W.R. Dawes made his observations from America during
the conflict of the Civil War!

Percival Lowell showed what you can do with a hobby if you
have a lot of money.

William H. Pickering was one of the last great observers
with the eye, prior to photographic studies.

Asaph Hall discovered the Martian moons, thanks to the
persistence of his wife!!

Eugene Antoniadi made maps of both Mars and Mercury,
thought to be the Best!! (till spacecraft flew by each
object and wiped out most of his features)


The study of rocks here on Earth is called Geology. It comes
from the Greek word "geo", which refers to Earth. But Mars
is another world, so the study of Martian rocks should take on
the Greek reference to the fourth planet, Ares. Thus the term
Aerology is suggested, meaning the study of rocks on the fourth

Time: Early in the 21 century.
Imagine you are doing a survey of what appears to be an ancient
river bed when you come across it...the remains of some ancient
life form! Here at last is evidence that life once held a tiny
foothold on this planet.

Now you must write up your report to Headquarters. Using the
form below, you try not to leave out any details. Remember this
is a major scientific discovery!

*** *** *** **** **** **** ***

( all other forms obsolete)


TITLE or RANK:__________________________

Weather conditions:_________________________________________




Describe event in full:_____________________________________





Options: The newspapers back on Earth have learned of your
discovery. If you were a reporter, how would you write this
up for your readers.? There is an old saying that a picture
is worth a thousand words, so be sure to include a sketch of
the find as well as of the location where it was found.

Name the find. Is it a plant or an animal? Study how
things are given scientific names. Usually two latin
names are involved.


Right now there are people thinking about Mars--thinking
of going there and returning to Earth. The logical step would be
to return soil and rock samples first using rovers. But history
has a habit of not being very logical. It is almost certain that
the first person to set foot on Mars is already in the classroom,
and has already learned to read. What will that first flight be
like? At the moment it is anyone's guess.

Problem: Design the first human mission to Mars.

Objective: Students will function collectively as a committee
to plan the first flight to Mars. It is suggested
that you limit the number of students per committee
to 4 or 5.

Problems to solve: For the sake of this activity, assume that the
transportation part of the problem has been solved. Students will
have to come up with the number of personal assigned to the flight.
Remember each person will have to be fed! It is
likely that this mission will take close to three years.

The trip out will take approximately 180 days. Once the crew arrives
on station at Mars, assume the Earth is out of alignment and will not be
in position for a return window for at least one year. Once this
window opens, a return flight will take 180 plus days.

Students will have to establish the crew. Consider:

1. Skills of each member. To save on numbers it might be best to
have each member adept at several skills.
2. Sex of each member. Do you want an all male crew or an all
female crew or mixed?
3. Military or civilian crew, or a mixed crew?

Be sure to consider diet. Calculate the amount of food one person
would consume for three years of a balanced diet. For comparison
make out a menu for one year and price this at the local supermarket.
Add to this one-year menu the weight of the food, and you'll see
another part of the problem to solve. Weight is a critical factor
to consider in payloads. (Of course one year's figures, to be
accurate for this flight, will have to be multiplied by three.)

Another problem to deal with is isolation. What will crew members
do to retain not only sanity but a sharp mind to deal with the
problems they will face?

To complete this first mission consider the option of
perhaps an international effort. The finished project must
also have a crew patch and mission name.


Ralph Winrich is a NASA Aerospace Education Specialist at the Lewis Research
Center in Cleveland, Ohio. If you would like a printed copy of NERGAL, leave a
note when you log off NASA Spacelink and your request will be forwarded to

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