While the people of Earth were distracted by the XXXth Olympiad, the Obama Administration last week quietly launched a stealth attack on an alien planet. Blasting through the target world’s atmosphere aboard a flying saucer, our invasion force was spearheaded by a sophisticated robot drone that, upon landing, began a relentless march across the alien landscape, mercilessly crushing anything in its path. The machine cannot be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever….until its batteries run out.
I speak, of course, of the Mars rover bearing the oh-so-innocent name “Curiosity.” (Like we spent $2.5 billion just for a quick look-see.) The fourth surface rover NASA has sent to Mars over the past 16 years, the nuclear-powered Curiosity has four basic missions: 1) Document Mars’ equatorial climate, 2) Investigate the local geology, 3) Determine if the planet could have ever supported life and, 4) If signs of life are discovered, sign it up for a reality show on BRAVO.
Of course, we already know quite a bit about Mars, ie., Don’t ever set a Disney movie there. Ever.
Other Martian Fun Facts include:
* While the Romans named the Red Planet for their God of War, other civilizations had other ideas. The ancient Egyptians called it “Har decher” aka, “The Red One” (Clever), the Hebrews “Ma’adim,” aka “The One Who Blushes” (Awwww).
* Mars gets its reddish hue from iron oxide. Rust. It’s an old planet.
* In 1877, when Mars and Earth were unusually close to each other, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed what he believed to be a series of linear structures on the Martian surface. He called these canali, meaning “channels,” which English-speakers interpreted as canals, or “Artifacts of an advanced alien civilization that was determined to save its dying planet by transporting water from the frozen poles to the arid equatorial regions.”
* The first American Mars probe, Mariner 4, reached Mars in 1965, followed by Mariner 9, which orbited the Red Planet in 1971. Together they established that Schiaparelli’s canali were optical illusions caused natural canyons and ridges, most likely caused by erosion. The so-called “Face on Mars,” photographed in 1976 by Viking 1, was also “unmasked” as simply a combination of weird shadows and poor camera resolution.
* Mars has the largest known canyon in the solar system. It’s called Valles Marineris (Mariner Valley) and is 2,500 miles long, about the length of the entire continental United States.
* Mars also has the largest mountain in the solar system, Olympus Mons. It’s 15 miles high — three times the height of Mt. Everest — and 375 miles across, about the size of Arizona.
* The Martian atmosphere, mostly carbon dioxide, is so thin that H2O can only exist as vapor or ice, but not liquid water. If you were to find yourself on the Martian surface without a space suit, you’d look something like this.
* Speaking of water, the planet’s polar ice caps, once thought to be mostly frozen carbon dioxide (“dry ice”), are now believed to be mostly water with a little dusting of CO2. If both caps melted, the resulting water could cover the entire planet to a depth of about 36 feet — before all the water boiled away into vapor.
* Science fiction writers and film makers have long been fascinated by Mars. Movies dealing with trips to Mars — or invasions therefrom — include Invaders from Mars (1953), War of the Worlds (1953), Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), The Angry Red Planet (1959), Santa Clause Conquers the Martians (1964),Â Total Recall (1990), Mars Attacks (1996), My Favorite Martian (1999), Red Planet (2000), Mission to Mars (2000), John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (2001),Â Mars Need Moms (2011) and John Carter (of Mars or otherwise) (2012).
* We know of 12 meteorites that have come from Mars. They got here via giant asteroid impacts that blew the rocky chunks off the Martian surface and threw them into space. These rocks floated through the solar system for tens of millions of years before finally entering our atmosphere and landing on the surface of our planet.
Happy Friday, and have a great weekend!