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Red Planet Day, November 28, recognizes the planet which has captivated human observers for countless years, Mars. Right now, we know that Mars is red thanks to photographs beamed back to Earth from American rovers.
For centuries, the naked human eye has been able to detect the reddish tinge of the solar system’s fourth planet, glimmering in the night sky. Little did scientists know, the red on Mars’ surface came from a preponderance of iron oxide, common rust. On Red Planet Day we celebrate our fascination with Mars, along with all the scientific advancements into understanding the dusty planet.
History of Red Planet Day
Around 400 BC, the Babylonian’s began keeping record of celestial events. They called Mars “Nergal,” The King of Conflicts, ostensibly because of the association between the planet’s color and the blood spilled during armed encounters with enemies. The ancient Greeks and Romans must have made the association as well, because in both their pantheons, Ares and Mars, respectively, were known as the gods of war.
As time went on and it became a possibility that man might one day travel among the stars, authors and filmmakers availed themselves of the sense of wonder surrounding the Red Planet and created works of science fiction and just plain fancy, imagining walking on that rusty ground.
One big question was whether Mars held good old fashioned water, the source of any life on a planet. Flyby missions detected polar ice caps. Ancient “canals” were shown to be an optical illusion, but that didn’t stop many believers from presuming that there had previously been civilizations on the fourth planet from the sun.
It still stands to reason that imaginations have blossomed around the notion of life on Mars, from the classic novel “Stranger In a Strange Land” by 1950’s author Robert Heinlein, to 2015’s Ridley Scott film starring Matt Damon, “The Martian.”
During this century, orbiter missions and rover missions sent back more and more detailed information about Mars, until NASA and its international counterparts began to plan manned missions to Mars. Now, National Red Planet Day commemorates the launch of the Mariner 4 spacecraft on November 28, 1964. Mariner 4 performed the first successful flyby of the planet Mars returning the first pictures of the Martian surface.
Red Planet Day timeline
The spacecraft carrying the Perseverance Rover is launched, with the hope that its onboard helicopter will be released to achieve the first powered flight in Mars’s atmosphere.
Borne to Mars on the lander “Pathfinder,” the “Sojourner” rover is the first one to roll down the ramp and start taking samples.
Mariner 4 — the first successful Mars mission — is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Babylonians, fascinated by the night sky, begin keeping celestial records of Mars and more.
Red Planet Day FAQs
Why is Mars dead?
Some four billion years ago, the core of Mars became inactive, its magnetic field disappeared, and the solar wind stripped the atmosphere away. With our magnetic field intact, our planet will remain blue and alive for the foreseeable future.
Why is Mars the best planet to live on?
After the Earth, Mars is the most habitable planet in our solar system due to several reasons: Its soil contains water to extract. It isn’t too cold or too hot. There is enough sunlight to use solar panels.
Does Mars have oxygen?
The atmosphere of Mars is the layer of gases surrounding Mars. It also contains trace levels of water vapor, oxygen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen and other noble gases. The atmosphere of Mars is much thinner than Earth’s.
How To Celebrate Red Planet Day
Read a Mars-themed book
There are a ton of them out there, from Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” to “Rose for Ecclesiastes” by Roger Zelazny. A simple search will reveal the amazing number of novels about Mars that there are to choose from. Not a fiction fan? Nonfiction articles about current and future real-life Mars-bound spacecraft are numerous as well, enough to keep one busy for hours.
Watch a Mars-themed movie
Again, there is a surplus of works to choose from, going as far back as 1918’s “A Trip to Mars.” Some more recent examples are “The Space Between Us,” and the aforementioned “The Martian.” And hey, if you’re a science-fiction fan, you can always become a science-fiction writer, and come up with a movie script of your own!
Learn more about Mars exploration in general
Did you know that part of the plan for the not-yet-landed Perseverance Rover is to fill test tubes with sample material and seal them, for future pickup by a mission that would be able to return to Earth? Many, many tidbits like this are easy to find, when you sit down and do a little online sleuthing.
5 Facts About Mars That Will Blow Your Mind
“Drops of Mars”
Scientists have found tiny traces of Martian atmosphere within meteorites violently ejected from Mars, then orbiting the solar system amongst galactic debris for millions of years, before crash landing on Earth.
It’s really, really dusty
Mars has the largest dust storms in the solar system, which lasts for months and cover the entire planet.
Mars is home to the tallest mountain in the solar system, called Olympus Mons, a shield volcano that is still believed to be active.
Mars and Earth have similar landmass
Even though Mars has only 15% of the Earth’s volume and just over 10% of the Earth’s mass, around two thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered in water — Mars’ surface gravity is only 37% of the Earth’s — meaning you could leap nearly three times higher on Mars!
Amazingly, sunsets on Mars are blue — during the martian day the sky is pinkish-red — which is the opposite of the Earth’s skies!
Why We Love Red Planet Day
It fuels the imagination
If humanity is getting close to a manned mission to Mars — and all indications say “yes” — how long before a setting like the one in “Star Trek” comes true, with man interacting with other intelligent species from other parts of the universe? It’s just plain fun to think about!
It advances science
Did you know that velcro came about as a result of NASA’s solving a problem for its astronauts, whose equipment kept on floating away in zero-G? It’s true. So imagine all the inventive byproducts that are going to come about — maybe even cures for diseases — when the engineering of a manned mission to Mars is really tested!
It’s inspiring to those who have long-term goals
The spaceflight community is currently discussing a manned mission to Mars in the decade of the 2030’s. And they’re putting a little work towards that goal, each and every day. So think like that on a personal scale. Where would you like to be in five or ten years? What would you like to be doing? Put a little work in every day.
Red Planet Day dates