Why Is Mars Red ?

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  • Since historical times, astronomers and astrologers have vied to explore the universe in general and our solar system in particular. To a large extent, their endeavours have yielded useful information about the planets and their satellites in the solar system, as also about the celestial expanse outside the solar system, given the availability of resources, amount of information and means of communication in those times. Close to accurate and sometimes so accurate were their findings that one wonders how much relevant their methodology was, taking cognizance of the fact that modern day telescopes and other space study gadgetry were not available to them. In judging the celestial distances, sizes and colors, they were remarkably close to modern findings.
  • Planets of our solar system, which look like different colored objects in space, owe it to the fact that all planets are made of different material from each other. Hence their colors too differ from each other. This primarily depends on the composition of the soils of these planets and the manner in which their surfaces absorb and reflect sunlight. Mars is the third brightest object in the night sky after Moon and Venus. It is the planet next to earth and fourth in the series from Sun and particularly generates interest because of it red color.
  • Earlier studies on Mars, before physically probing it with unmanned spacecraft, whether orbiting it or landing on its surface, had identified the planet’s color purely on visual basis. Since the days of mythology, Mars was always termed as the red planet. But accepting an almost 40 million mile away phenomenon on the basis of photographic imagery, astronomers were apprehensive of getting deluded as interference from some unexplained cosmic activity could be playing truant in emission of actual colors of planets reaching Earth. Astronomers feared a likely possibility of Mars being of some other color than red.
  • From 1964 onwards, when Mariner 4 successfully orbited Mars for the first time, there have been several missions from the US, erstwhile USSR, European union and India, to study the geology, atmosphere and probability of life on Mars.
  • The actual breakthrough came in the last four decades, when unmanned spacecraft sent to probe Mars transmitted all important data and images back to Earth. While some orbited it, others landed on its surface. Equipped with state of the art investigative gear, these spaceships sent images and data, providing insight into history, geology and climate of our neighboring planet. The instrument cluster, furnished with miniscule radioactive emission device and X-ray detectors scrutinized observations, determining abundance of various elements in Martian soil. This technical wizardry helped unveil, what was thus far a mystery to mankind.
  • Upon examining the data thus collected, in the form of images and scientific observations, it was conclusively established that the color of Mars is predominantly reddish and that the planet abounds in iron oxide (we know it as rust in common parlance) which is instrumental in giving it this color. The presence of iron oxide on Mars is so abundant that even the sky on Mars is faint red or pink in color. This is attributed to the fact that the iron oxide dust gets blown into the atmosphere of Mars by winds blowing on it’s surface. And since the gravitational pull on Mars is almost a third of earth’s gravitational pull, the reddish dust remains suspended perpetually in the planet’s atmosphere. So the primary constitution of the surface of Mars and the ever suspended clouds and dust of iron oxide, all get together to give the planet it’s red color as is also visible from Earth.

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