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They tend to occur when Mars is closest to the Sun, and have been shown to increase the global temperature. The solar day or sol on Mars is only slightly longer than an Earth day: 24 hours, 39 minutes, and The axial tilt of Mars is In the present day epoch, the orientation of the north pole of Mars is close to the star Deneb. Mars has a relatively pronounced orbital eccentricity of about 0.

It is known that in the past, Mars has had a much more circular orbit.

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At one point, 1. For the last 35, years, the orbit of Mars has been getting slightly more eccentric because of the gravitational effects of the other planets. The closest distance between Earth and Mars will continue to mildly decrease for the next 25, years.

The current understanding of planetary habitability —the ability of a world to develop environmental conditions favorable to the emergence of life—favors planets that have liquid water on their surface. Most often this requires the orbit of a planet to lie within the habitable zone , which for the Sun extends from just beyond Venus to about the semi-major axis of Mars. The past flow of liquid water demonstrates the planet's potential for habitability. Recent evidence has suggested that any water on the Martian surface may have been too salty and acidic to support regular terrestrial life.

The lack of a magnetosphere and the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars are a challenge: the planet has little heat transfer across its surface, poor insulation against bombardment of the solar wind and insufficient atmospheric pressure to retain water in a liquid form water instead sublimes to a gaseous state.

Mars is nearly, or perhaps totally, geologically dead; the end of volcanic activity has apparently stopped the recycling of chemicals and minerals between the surface and interior of the planet. In situ investigations have been performed on Mars by the Viking landers , Spirit and Opportunity rovers, Phoenix lander, and Curiosity rover.

Evidence suggests that the planet was once significantly more habitable than it is today, but whether living organisms ever existed there remains unknown. The Viking probes of the mids carried experiments designed to detect microorganisms in Martian soil at their respective landing sites and had positive results, including a temporary increase of CO 2 production on exposure to water and nutrients. This sign of life was later disputed by scientists, resulting in a continuing debate, with NASA scientist Gilbert Levin asserting that Viking may have found life.

A re-analysis of the Viking data, in light of modern knowledge of extremophile forms of life, has suggested that the Viking tests were not sophisticated enough to detect these forms of life. The tests could even have killed a hypothetical life form. This suggests a severely arid environment, with minimal or no liquid water interaction. Scientists have proposed that carbonate globules found in meteorite ALH , which is thought to have originated from Mars, could be fossilized microbes extant on Mars when the meteorite was blasted from the Martian surface by a meteor strike some 15 million years ago.

This proposal has been met with skepticism, and an exclusively inorganic origin for the shapes has been proposed. Small quantities of methane and formaldehyde detected by Mars orbiters are both claimed to be possible evidence for life, as these chemical compounds would quickly break down in the Martian atmosphere.

Impact glass , formed by the impact of meteors, which on Earth can preserve signs of life, has been found on the surface of the impact craters on Mars. In May , evidence of the earliest known life on land on Earth may have been found in 3. These findings may be helpful in deciding where best to search for early signs of life on the planet Mars. In early , media reports speculated that certain rock features at a site called Jura looked like a type of fossil, but project scientists say the formations likely resulted from a geological process at the bottom of an ancient drying lakebed, and are related to mineral veins in the area similar to gypsum crystals.

On June 7, , NASA announced that the Curiosity rover had discovered organic compounds in sedimentary rocks dating to three billion years old, [] indicating that some of the building blocks for life were present.

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In July , scientists reported the discovery of a subglacial lake on Mars, the first known stable body of water on the planet. It sits 1. It is mostly surrounded by higher ground except on its eastern side, where there is a depression. Asteroid capture is a long-favored theory, but their origin remains uncertain. Mars was the Roman counterpart of Ares. From the surface of Mars, the motions of Phobos and Deimos appear different from that of the Moon.

Phobos rises in the west, sets in the east, and rises again in just 11 hours. Deimos, being only just outside synchronous orbit — where the orbital period would match the planet's period of rotation — rises as expected in the east but slowly.

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Despite the hour orbit of Deimos, 2. Because the orbit of Phobos is below synchronous altitude, the tidal forces from the planet Mars are gradually lowering its orbit. In about 50 million years, it could either crash into Mars's surface or break up into a ring structure around the planet.

The origin of the two moons is not well understood. Their low albedo and carbonaceous chondrite composition have been regarded as similar to asteroids, supporting the capture theory. The unstable orbit of Phobos would seem to point towards a relatively recent capture.

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But both have circular orbits , near the equator, which is unusual for captured objects and the required capture dynamics are complex. Accretion early in the history of Mars is plausible, but would not account for a composition resembling asteroids rather than Mars itself, if that is confirmed. A third possibility is the involvement of a third body or a type of impact disruption.

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Although the VNIR spectra of the moons of Mars resemble those of outer-belt asteroids, the thermal infrared spectra of Phobos are reported to be inconsistent with chondrites of any class. Dozens of crewless spacecraft , including orbiters , landers , and rovers , have been sent to Mars by the Soviet Union , the United States , Europe , and India to study the planet's surface, climate, and geology.

The Mars Orbiter Mission used a Hohmann transfer orbit to escape Earth's gravitational influence and catapult into a nine-month-long voyage to Mars. The mission is the first successful Asian interplanetary mission. The mission arrived at Mars in November The probe will make a global study of the Martian atmosphere.

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Several plans for a human mission to Mars have been proposed throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, but no active plan has an arrival date sooner than the s. With the presence of various orbiters, landers, and rovers, it is possible to practice astronomy from Mars. Although Mars's moon Phobos appears about one-third the angular diameter of the full moon on Earth, Deimos appears more or less star-like, looking only slightly brighter than Venus does from Earth.

Various phenomena seen from Earth have also been observed from Mars, such as meteors and auroras. A transit of Earth will be seen from Mars on November 10, On October 19, , Comet Siding Spring passed extremely close to Mars, so close that the coma may have enveloped Mars. NASA 's Spirit rover has taken pictures of a greenish-brown, mud-colored landscape with blue-grey rocks and patches of light red sand.

When least favorably positioned, it can be lost in the Sun's glare for months at a time. At its most favorable times—at or year intervals, and always between late July and late September—a lot of surface detail can be seen with a telescope. Especially noticeable, even at low magnification, are the polar ice caps. As Mars approaches opposition, it begins a period of retrograde motion , which means it will appear to move backwards in a looping motion with respect to the background stars. The duration of this retrograde motion lasts for about 72 days, and Mars reaches its peak luminosity in the middle of this motion.

The time of opposition can occur as much as 8. As Mars approaches opposition it begins a period of retrograde motion , which makes it appear to move backwards in a looping motion relative to the background stars. The duration of this retrograde motion is about 72 days. This occurred when Mars was one day from opposition and about three days from its perihelion , making it particularly easy to see from Earth.

The last time it came so close is estimated to have been on September 12, 57, BC , the next time being in For instance, the minimum distance on August 22, , was 0. The history of observations of Mars is marked by the oppositions of Mars, when the planet is closest to Earth and hence is most easily visible, which occur every couple of years. Even more notable are the perihelic oppositions of Mars, which occur every 15 or 17 years and are distinguished because Mars is close to perihelion, making it even closer to Earth.

The ancient Sumerians believed that Mars was Nergal , the god of war and plague. For Mars, they knew that the planet made 37 synodic periods , or 42 circuits of the zodiac, every 79 years. They invented arithmetic methods for making minor corrections to the predicted positions of the planets. In the fourth century BCE, Aristotle noted that Mars disappeared behind the Moon during an occultation , indicating that the planet was farther away. Ptolemy's model and his collective work on astronomy was presented in the multi-volume collection Almagest , which became the authoritative treatise on Western astronomy for the next fourteen centuries. During the seventeenth century, Tycho Brahe measured the diurnal parallax of Mars that Johannes Kepler used to make a preliminary calculation of the relative distance to the planet.

This was first performed by Giovanni Domenico Cassini in The early parallax measurements were hampered by the quality of the instruments. By the 19th century, the resolution of telescopes reached a level sufficient for surface features to be identified.

A perihelic opposition of Mars occurred on September 5, These maps notably contained features he called canali , which were later shown to be an optical illusion. These canali were supposedly long, straight lines on the surface of Mars, to which he gave names of famous rivers on Earth. His term, which means "channels" or "grooves", was popularly mistranslated in English as "canals".

The observatory was used for the exploration of Mars during the last good opportunity in and the following less favorable oppositions. He published several books on Mars and life on the planet, which had a great influence on the public.

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The seasonal changes consisting of the diminishing of the polar caps and the dark areas formed during Martian summer in combination with the canals led to speculation about life on Mars, and it was a long-held belief that Mars contained vast seas and vegetation. The telescope never reached the resolution required to give proof to any speculations.

As bigger telescopes were used, fewer long, straight canali were observed. Even in the s articles were published on Martian biology, putting aside explanations other than life for the seasonal changes on Mars. Detailed scenarios for the metabolism and chemical cycles for a functional ecosystem have been published. Once spacecraft visited the planet during NASA's Mariner missions in the s and 70s, these concepts were radically broken. The results of the Viking life-detection experiments aided an intermission in which the hypothesis of a hostile, dead planet was generally accepted.

Mariner 9 and Viking allowed better maps of Mars to be made using the data from these missions, and another major leap forward was the Mars Global Surveyor mission, launched in and operated until late , that allowed complete, extremely detailed maps of the Martian topography, magnetic field and surface minerals to be obtained.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Express continued exploring with new instruments, and supporting lander missions. NASA provides two online tools: Mars Trek , which provides visualizations of the planet using data from 50 years of exploration, and Experience Curiosity , which simulates traveling on Mars in 3-D with Curiosity.