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AstronomySolar system



Mars is the fourth planet in the solar system by distance from the Sun.
This planet is visible to the naked eye and is the last of the terrestrial planets after Mercury, Venus and Earth.
Mars is called the red planet due to its characteristic color caused by the large amount of iron oxide that covers it.
This planet takes its name from the divinity of the same name in Roman mythology.

Astronomical Observation –
Astronomical observation of Mars is an interesting activity for astronomy enthusiasts, and Mars is one of the most studied and observed planets in our solar system.
Best observing times: Mars is best observed when it is at opposition, which is when it is on the other side of the sky from the Sun. During opposition, Mars appears larger and brighter in the night sky. Mars oppositions occur approximately every 26 months.
Tools needed: To observe Mars, the use of a telescope is recommended. Even good binoculars can offer a decent view, but to observe details on the planet’s surface, you need a telescope. A telescope with an aperture of at least 100 millimeters can provide good observations.
Observable Details: With an appropriately sized telescope, you can observe details on the surface of Mars, including polar ice caps, geological formations, and dust storms. You can also follow the movement of the poles and the evolution of surface features over time.
Observing the phases of Mars: Mars goes through phases similar to those of the Moon, so you can observe its appearance vary from one appearance to the next. During opposition, Mars appears fully illuminated, while at mid-opposition it appears half-enlightened.
Best time to observe: Mars is generally best observed when it is highest in the night sky, so try to observe it when it is above the horizon at a higher altitude. You can use astronomy planning software or apps to determine the best times to view Mars from your location.
Atmospheric conditions: The quality of observation depends on atmospheric conditions. Try to observe on clear, stable nights, away from light pollution.
Mars Photography: If you are interested in astrophotography, you can try photographing Mars. You need an adapter for your telescope and a suitable camera. Planetary photography usually requires a high shutter speed and good telescope stability.
Remember that astronomical observation requires patience and practice. Mars is a fascinating target for amateur astronomers, and each opposition offers new opportunities to study the “red planet”.

Physical characteristics –
Mars is the fourth planet in the solar system from the Sun. It has a diameter of about 6,779 kilometers, which is about half the diameter of Earth.
The surface of Mars is characterized by a predominantly rocky and desert landscape, with numerous plains, valleys, canyons and mountains. One of the most notable features is Mount Olympus, the largest volcano in the solar system.
Mars has a very thin atmosphere composed mainly of carbon dioxide (95.3%), with traces of nitrogen and argon. Atmospheric pressure is only about 1% of Earth’s. This thin atmosphere makes Mars unable to retain heat effectively, leading to large temperature variations between day and night.
Average surface temperatures on Mars are very cold, with values hovering around -80°C (-112°F). However, in equatorial regions during the day, temperatures can reach 20°C (68°F), while in polar regions, in winter, temperatures can drop well below -100°C (-148°F) .
Mars hosts water ice, mostly at the poles, but also in the form of underground ice in various regions. There is evidence of ancient water flows, river valleys and sediments that suggests Mars may have had a warmer and wetter climate in the past.
Mars has a wide variety of geological formations, including the Valle Marineris, a system of giant canyons, and the Martian canals (features that were once misinterpreted as man-made canals). There are also vast plains, such as the Tharsis Plateau and the Hellas Plain.
The poles of Mars are covered by water ice and carbon dioxide and show seasonal changes in their extent due to temperature variation.
Mars does not have a global magnetic field like Earth, which means it is exposed to solar and cosmic radiation more directly. This lack of a magnetic field has contributed to the loss of much of its atmosphere over time.
Numerous space missions, including rovers and orbiters, have been sent to Mars to study its surface, atmosphere and geology. NASA and other space agencies have contributed significantly to our understanding of Mars.

Space missions –
Space missions to Mars have been conducted by several space agencies around the world to study the red planet, explore its surface, and search for clues to the possibility of past or present life. Here are some of the most significant space missions to Mars:
Mariner Program (NASA):
Mariner 4 (1964): It was the first probe to perform a close flyby of Mars, providing the first close-up images of the planet.
Viking Program (NASA):
Viking 1 and Viking 2 (1976): These probes made the first successful landings on Mars and conducted biological experiments to look for signs of life.
Mars Pathfinder Program (NASA):
Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner (1997): This mission used a lander and rover, Sojourner, to study the geology of Mars.
Mars Exploration Rover Program (NASA):
Spirit and Opportunity (2004): These rovers explored the Martian surface for several years, studying the geology and looking for signs of water and conditions conducive to life.
Curiosity (2012): The Curiosity rover explored Gale Crater on Mars, searching for clues to geologic history and the possibility of past life.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Program (NASA) (2006): This orbiter studies Mars from space, providing high-resolution images and data on the composition of the atmosphere and surface.
ExoMars program (ESA and Roscosmos):
ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (2016): This orbiter studies the atmospheric composition of Mars, looking for gases that could be associated with biological or geological processes.
ExoMars Rover (planned): This rover was developed to search for signs of past or present life on the surface of Mars.
Tianwen-1 Mission (China) (2020): This mission includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover. It was China’s first mission to Mars.
Mars 2020 Mission (NASA):
Perseverance Rover (2021): This rover was sent to Mars to search for signs of past life, collect samples of Martian rocks and soil, and set the stage for future missions.
Hope Mission (United Arab Emirates) (2020): This mission is an orbiter that studies the atmosphere of Mars.
Zhurong Mission (China) (2021): This mission includes a rover studying the surface of Mars.
These are just a few of the most significant missions to Mars, and many more have been planned or are underway to continue the exploration of the red planet and deepen our understanding of its past, present, and future potential for life.

Guido Bissanti

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