At its closest approach to Earth, Mars is the fourth brightest object in the sky after the Sun, the Moon and Venus. At
approximately 142 million miles, 53% further than Earth, Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, which it orbits every
1.88 years. It has two small satellites, Phobos and Deimos, which orbit close to the planet.
The distinct red colour of Mars, observed even by eyesight, results from its heavily
oxidised surface. Its thin atmosphere (the pressure is only 0.6 % of Earth) is comprised mainly of carbon dioxide with
small amounts of nitrogen, argon and oxygen. The atmosphere produces a greenhouse effect but only raises the temperature
slightly. The average temperature on Mars is about –55ºC but the planet`s surface temperature ranges from –133ºC at the
winter pole to 27ºC on the daylight side during summer.
Mars has some of the most varied and interesting terrain of any of the planets in the
solar system. For example, Olympus Mons at 24 kilometres above the surface is the largest volcanic structure anywhere in
the solar system. Its base is more than 500 kilometres in diameter and is rimmed by a cliff averaging 6 kilometres in
height. Valles Marineres is a 7 kilometre deep, 4,000 kilometre long fissure that stretches a quarter of the circumference
of Mars and, again, is the largest in the solar system. The polar regions of Mars are covered in ice. The northern
hemisphere is less cratered than the southern which consists of relatively recent lava flows, leading scientists to
believe that this surface is younger. Physical features closely resembling shorelines, gorges, riverbeds and islands
suggest that large rivers once flowed on the planet.
Mars moves in a more elliptical orbit then the Earth, so that its distance from the
Sun can range from 208 million kilometres at perihelion to 248 million kilometres at aphelion. This orbit is responsible
for the significant differing surface temperatures mentioned earlier. The closest approaches to the Earth occur when Mars
is both at perihelion and opposition at about the same date. Then its distance from the Earth, as in August 2003, can be
as little as 56 million kilometres. When opposition occurs with Mars at aphelion the distance increases to 100 million
kilometres. Through a telescope Mars appears nearly twice as large at perihelic opposition than at aphelic oppostion.
Unfortunately for northern observers, perihelic oppositions occur in August and always put the planet well south of the
equator and rather low in the sky. A winter opposition puts Mars higher in our sky but, being further from the Sun and Earth,
it appears smaller showing less detail.
1960 saw the first attempted Mars missions. Several Russian and American attempts failed until in November
1964, Mariner 4 passed the planet, discovered its cratered surface, and returned 22 TV pictures. The first Mars landings
were by two Russian craft during May 1971. During the same month NASA put the first artificial satellite into orbit around
Mars, and took pictures of the entire surface. In 1976 two Viking craft landed on the surface and collected large quantities
of quality images and data. In September 1997 NASA`s Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) entered orbit around the planet and is still
providing high resolution images. A further six missions have been sent since then with three orbiters and two landers
currently in operation (including the Mars Express which hosted the unfortunate British Beagle II lander with which
contact was lost after landing at Christmas 2003) sending back a wealth of photographs and information. In all there have
been nearly 60 attempted missions to Mars with at least another 10 planned between now and 2016. The eventual Russian and
American aim is to send a human crew.
Before space exploration, astronomers thought they saw straight lines criss-crossing the surface, leading
to the popular belief that these were irrigation canals. Late 19th and early 20th century fiction gave credence to life on
Mars, later dispelled. The Face caused a further controversy and was thought to be a symmetrical object in the form of a
humanoid face that could only have been `built` by intelligent beings. Now observed for more than 30 years, this crumbling
edifice is now seen as native geology rather than carved by natives.
However, there are currently other strange, unexplained, curious anomalies in recent
images that, some say, space agencies seem reluctant to publish or explain.
Some of these images include photographs showing translucent tube-like ribbed
structures, that perhaps are not natural geology or topography. They appear to be partially covered by the surface terrain
and partially exposed. Other images show a potential fossil that the Martian rover Opportunity photographed then drilled
into and ground to dust for analysis. A further image shows what looks like a monolith reckoned to be 6.3 kilometres high
with smoke or steam emanating from the top. Photographs from the southern hemisphere show an area where there appears to be
shrub growth that follows an annual cycle increasing in size and darkening during each Martian spring. Yet more photographs
show what Arthur C. Clarke suggests are Banyan-type trees, again changing with the Martian seasons. Also photographed is
what looks like a geometrically artificially constructed, two storey building with a landing pad on top. These enticing
enigmas are just a few of many and the debate as to whether life exists on Mars has again been seriously stirred. With the
exception of the fossil, these features have only been examined from aerial photographs. Until manned flights to Mars, the
only way to better determine what these features are is to direct one of the Martian rovers to the relevant areas for closer
investigation and PUBLISH THE RESULTS.
An internet dispute suggests that there is indeed a cover-up from NASA. Original
photographs from NASA`s Martian rovers show familiar light blue skies, changed to inhospitable colours in their published
photographs. It is also suggested that the British Beagle II, on which more than 66 million pounds was spent and which
among its other objectives was to search for possible signatures of life, was intentionally immobilised.
In Roman mythology, Mars was the god of war and son of Jupiter. Mars fathered Romulus, the
legendary founder of Rome, and was therefore himself regarded as the father of the Romans.
In terms of astrology, Mars is the planet of willpower, energy, sexual drive and aggressive
behaviour. In its positive form, Mars gives a person great energy, the will to carry out daunting tasks, endurance, a
strong sexual drive, an adventurous nature and an independent-minded and assertive personality. In its negative form, Mars
instils recklessness, impatience, a quick temper and an argumentative and overly aggressive personality.