Mars, easily spotted in the sky, must have been noticed by many, but one person gave it a second thought
to discover it. Let's read more fun facts that led to the discovery of red planet.
Mars is visible to the naked eye. You can look up at the clear sky at night to find the red planet in the horizon. This means, it was visible to the early man who may have been terrorized by it.
Mars changes its position every night, unlike stars. Just imagine the superstitions that may have cropped up when the planet was closer to earth and burned like a hot piece of coal!
History of the Discovery of Mars
The Egyptians called the red planet 'Har decher' or the Red One. The planet was called 'Nergal' or 'the Star of Death' by the Babylonians.
Greeks called Mars as Ares, the war-god, and associated it with warfare and bloodshed. The Romans too called it the God of war and christened it with its present name 'Mars'.
According to ancient mythology, Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus, founders of the city of Rome. Hence, Mars was considered as the protector of Romans and March the season of war.
Babylonians made astronomical observations and developed complex arithmetical calculations that helped predicting eclipses solely for religious purposes.
The Greeks were the first people to take a rational look at the natural occurrences and referred to Mars, as one of the five 'wandering stars' that moved relative to 'fixed stars'.
The ancient Hindu religious texts called Mars as their deity Mangala, who was born from the sweat of Shiva. It is also known as Angaraka in Sanskrit.
The Hebrews called it Ma'adim' or 'the one who blushes'. The Persians called it the Zoroastrian god of faith, Bahram, and the Turks called it Sakit.
Who Discovered Mars?
In 1576, Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer made accurate calculations of the position of Mars with his eyes!
He had a really keen eyesight that helped in calculating the position without sophisticated instruments in a matter of just 4 minutes! Wow! That's what can be called hawk's eyesight.
Then German astronomer Johannes Kepler came forth with a revolutionary idea that orbit of Mars is elliptical and not circular. This was the most contradictory statement of that time.
Most of the astronomers of the era believed the orbits of all planets were circular. Soon, Kepler claimed, not only Mars, but all planets have an elliptical orbit.
Nicolas Copernicus became the first person to develop heliocentric model of Solar System. He broke the notion that earth was center of universe and proved that the planets revolved around the sun.
He published his theory in 1543 and Galileo Galilei backed him. Galileo used his rudimentary telescope to discover that Jupiter had moons orbiting around it. He found that Venus underwent phases like the moon.
In 1659, Christian Huygens, a Dutch astronomer drew Mars with observations he made using a telescope he designed himself. He discovered a strange feature on the planet, later called Syrtis Major.
Martians have always intrigued humans and one scientist claimed there was life on Mars in 1802. He suggested drawing huge figures in snow that will help signaling the Martians.
In 1877, Giovanni Schiaparelli discovered several lines crossing one another. He said they were water canals that were made by intelligent life forms.
Mariner 9 was sent to Mars in 1971 that came back with images of huge volcanoes and vast canyons. It helped discover the famous volcano, Olympus Mons.
It is big enough to cover the state of Missouri. It would reach a height of 15 miles above the earth surface. In 1975, Viking I and II landed on Mars that analyzed rocks and soil of Mars.
Mars Odyssey was launched in 2001, that is still in orbit and the end date has been extended to September 2010.
Many explorations have taken place since then and many are under way. We are still in the process of fully discovering Mars and fulfill the fantasy of existence of life on mars.
The biggest mountain on Mars is the Olympus Mons, which is a dormant volcano. The biggest canyon in the system of the known universe 'Valles Marineris', is also found on Mars.
The main reason why Mars was known as the Roman God of war, is due to its blood red color. The red color is actually due to presence of iron oxide, commonly known as rust in the planet's soil.
Mars is half the size of earth and has a third of earth gravity.
There are numerous dust storms on Mars that are seen when the planet is closest to Sun, and icy clouds of carbon dioxide and dust are seen when the planet is on the farther end of the orbit.
Mars has two moons, Phobos (fear) and Deimios (panic), discovered by Asaph Hall at U.S. Naval Observatory, Washington. He named the moons after mythical horses drawing the chariot of Mars, god of war.
Scientist say that Phobos orbits Mars at a low altitude and would tear off from Mars. It will survive as a ring and few years later, will rain down as debris on Mars. This may occur 50 million years from now.
Mars has only 1% of air pressure found on Earth. The atmosphere contains 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, 1.6% argon and trace amount of oxygen and hydrogen oxide.
The equatorial radius of Mars is 3,397 km and the diameter is 6,794 km.
Scientists have recently discovered that there is enough ice under the surface of Mars that can fill lake Michigan twice.