We were curious to find out why Mars is called “the Red Planet”. Mars is not just another planet in our Solar system. It may look just like a reddish-orange spot in the night sky, and scientist may say it is quite small (the Earth is bigger, if you compare diameters, volume, surface areas and masses); however, people consider it a mystery and many of them still believe in “little green men” from Mars.
Mars was never actually discovered and although people have always known about it, they just didn’t realize it was a planet. Even the Ancient Egyptians knew about it and called it Har Decher, which means “the Red One”.
Copernicus developed the heliocentric model of the Solar System and was first to suggest that planets orbit around the Sun. It happened around 1543. Galileo Galilei confirmed Copernicus’ theory using a telescope to observe the planets and during the later years, with bigger and more advanced telescopes, astronomers were able to find out more details about planets.
Why Is Mars Red?
In 1877 Asaph Hall, an American astronomer, spotted two moons and named those planets Phobos and Deimos, or Fear and Panic in English. Those were the names of the mythical horses that drew the chariot of the Roman god, Mars. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Mars got its name because of its reddish color, because red is considered to be a color of war. However, Mars is not all red; it looks red because of all the dust on the surface made of various oxides of iron. Under the surface, red layer is not deeper than two meters. All the iron on Mars comes from volcanoes that are 100 times bigger than those on Earth are. High concentration of iron in basalt makes Mars look red. That is why our planet does not look red; it has lower concentration of iron in its basalt layer.
Exploration of Mars
Real exploration of Mars had to wait for the 20th century to come, when NASA’s Mariner 4 flew over the Red Planet and provided first photographs of its surface on July 14, 1965. It was discovered that the famous canals, “made by intelligent life forms” seen by Percival Lowell on the Mars’ surface did not actually exist and that they were just an optical illusion. The same can be said for the intelligent Martians (also Lowell’s idea). For now, we can enjoy green or gray aliens in the works of fiction. The idea of alien invaders is not unknown to people – just remember Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio drama and the panic it caused!