The red planet has interested people as a possible place for extra-terrestrial life for centuries now. It has loads of interesting geology, and its conditions could allow life to exist, although it wouldn’t be easy!
Mars photographed in 2003, on its closest approach to Earth for 60,000 years!
We’ve been exploring Mars for more than 50 years, although it’s important to remember that about half of all the rockets we’ve sent there have crashed or failed. Even visiting one of the nearest planets is very difficult. One mission that survived and is still exploring Mars is NASA’s Curiosity rover.
Curiosity has travelled over a large area of the dusty, rocky surface of Mars. Below, you can see its view of an area called The Kimberley, and a video of Curiosity’s journey across Gale Crater.
|Position from the sun||4th planet|
|Distance from sun||228,000,000 km|
|Day length||24.6 hours|
|Year length||687 days|
|Number of moons||2|
|Surface temperature||-153 °C to 20 °C|
|Atmosphere||Carbon dioxide, nitrogen, argon|
The two activities on this page take us back over 100 years, to a time when people had not yet learnt much about Mars. It was an exciting time to be studying and learning, using new more powerful telescopes than anyone had used before. Many writers and artists imagined weird and wonderful landscapes and societies that might live on the red planet.
Activity 1 – Canals on Mars?
One of the most obsessive astronomers was the American Percival Lowell. He spent many years studying Mars and wrote a number of books about the planet and about life on Mars. He was inspired in part by the observations of Italian astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli, who drew this map of canals on Mars in 1888.
Lowell built an observatory in Arizona which is one of the most important historical observatories in the world – it’s where they discovered Pluto in 1930. In this photo from 1914, he is observing Venus.
Imagine you are Percival Lowell in 1893 and write a diary about your thoughts about the canals and life on Mars and your idea to build an observatory to investigate further. You can research more information to help you write your diary entry by looking at these online resources:
- Percival Lowell on Wikipedia
- The Lowell Observatory website
- An article on Space.com
- Famous Scientists .org entry on Lowell
- A NASA page about early ideas of Martians
Activity 2 – Fairies on Mars?
In 1923, William Timlin, from Ashington in Northumberland, published The Ship that Sailed to Mars. It’s an incredible fantasy story, beautifully written and illustrated – “it is today one of the rarest, most original and beautiful children’s books of the 20th century” – the only book Timlin ever published.
Write your own fantasy story about a journey to Mars, to meet the strange inhabitants there. Include drawings to illustrate your story.
You can go to the previous secret pages by clicking the planets below.