Mars, the red planet, is the first planet in the Solar System beyond the
orbit of Earth. Apart from Venus it is the brightest of the planets, its
reddish colour being clearly visible from Earth. Mars is about half the size
of Earth and twice the size of the Moon. It is slightly pear-shaped and
spheroid in shape, with a pronounced bulge in the region called Tharsis, Mars
being 4221.7113 miles diameter at the equator and 4199.9627 miles at the
Poles. This dramatic slope was caused by a large asteroid that had collided
with Mars early in its history, leaving a crater large enough to contain Mount
Everest. Known as the Hellas impact basin, it is 6 miles deep and 1,300 miles
Mars has about 15% the volume of Earth, and a tilt of 24.935° to the plane of
its orbit, slightly greater than that of Earth. It comes to opposition on
average every 26 months, but its orbit is eccentric and its distance from the
Sun ranges between 154,725,650 and 128,005,960 miles. On average it is 1.524
AU from the Sun. It was the eccentric orbit of Mars (0.0934) that finally
proved to the Catholic Church that it was the Earth that orbited the Sun, many
years after Galileo's attempts to establish the same fundamental fact.
Mars' closest approaches occur when it is near both its perihelion and at
opposition to the Sun, every 15-17 years. This happened in 2003 when its
distance from Earth was only 34,656,418 miles, its closest approach for almost
If Mars is near aphelion at its opposition, its distance is 60 million miles.
At superior conjunction a year later it is 235 million miles from Earth. From
Earth it can occupy between 3.5secs and 24secs of arc. A Martian day, or sol,
lasts 24 hr 39' 36", and each year has four seasons, with summer and
winter solstices, but the year is equivalent to 23 Earth months (687 days). It
travels 191° per annum. Investigations have indicated that the planet behaves
more like a fluid than a rigid body and so probably has no core. Surface
temperatures range from around -123°C to 29.4°C.
Galileo made the first telescopic observations of Mars in 1610. Most early
observers believed the dark patches on its surface were seas, while the bright
orange areas were its continents. When it was realised that Mars' atmosphere
was too thin to sustain oceans, a theory developed that the dark patches were
ancient seabeds, filled with primitive vegetation. This view persisted up to
the time of the flight of Mariner 4, launched 28 November 1964 (after the
failure of Mariner 3), which returned 21 images to Earth at its fly-by in
A theory by Giovanni Schiaparelli (b. 14 March 1835, Savigliano, Piedmont,
Italy; d. 4 July 1910, Milan) at Milan in 1877 that Mars' deserts were crossed
with fine straight, artificial-looking lines called canali, translated as
"canals", led to theories of global irrigation systems built by
Martians. Percival Lowell wrote several books supporting this view. As
recently as 1930 a popular science monthly claimed, "Few if any
astronomers doubt that these dark areas [on Mars] represent vegetation...and
giant beavers, too...with fur coats for the cold, and big eyes because there's
less light - and bigger bodies because there's less gravity."
The Southern Hemisphere is 10 to 100 times more densely cratered than the
Northern Hemisphere, and most of the original "rivers" were found
here. Active erosion and movement of debris continues on Mars and has been
ongoing for hundreds of millions of years. Mars' most striking natural feature
is the volcano Olympus Mons, near the Tharsis bulge, which towers more than
75,000ft above the surrounding plain. It is the largest volcano in the Solar
System and has a diameter of 310-370miles.
A giant storm centred on the North Polar Ice Cap and comprising of water-ice
clouds, was discovered on Mars in 1999, using the Hubble Space Telescope. It
measured 1,100 miles East-West and 900 miles North-South.
NASA photos from the Mars Orbital Camera mounted on Mars Global Surveyor
released on 4 December 2000 showed that Mars was indeed once covered in huge
lakes. It provided the first evidence that Mars possesses sedimentary rocks
formed over millions of years by massive quantities of water. "Some of
the images of these outcrops show hundreds and hundreds of identically thick
layers, which it is almost impossible to have without water," said Dr
Michael Malin, the principal investigator of the Mars Orbital Camera. Later
pictures showed giant flood channels up to 2,000 km in size, north-west of the
volcano Arsia Mons, and south of a possible ancient ocean, Amazonis Planitia
(1/3 the volume of the Indian Ocean). These were ten times the size of the
previously known outflow channel, Kasei Valley.
Since on Earth sedimentary rock is full of fossilised remains of animals and
plants, the discovery led weight to the theory that Mars was once warm, wet
and capable of supporting life. The rock deposits, which would be the same age
as any fossils they contain, are 3.5-4.3 billion years old. Life on Earth is
thought to have emerged between 3.5-4 billion years ago. In Lake Vida, on
Antarctica, close to the South Pole, an ecosystem has been found beneath the
thick ice cap, cut off from the Sun's rays, holding living microbes that are
almost 3,000 years old. They exist in a layer of brine that is seven times
more salty than seawater, so that it remains liquid despite temperatures never
rising higher than -10°C. These conditions are similar to those once found on
Mars, and raise the possibility that similar algae and bacteria could have
existed or could still exist there.
Large outcrops of olivine, a gemstone mineral commonly used in jewellery in
the form of brilliant green peridot, have been found by the Mars Global
Surveyor on the surface of Mars in an area of nearly 19,000 square miles, in the 3.6 billion
year old Nili Fossae region, which may be linked to the Isidis impact basin, formed long ago by an asteroid.
The mineral could have been thrust up from below by faults and fractures. Todd Hoefen of the US Geological Survey in
Denver CO wrote in Science in October 2003: "If the olivine was exposed shortly after the impact event, the martian surface may have been dry and cold for more than three billion years, but if the olivine was recently uncovered . . . it could have been cold and dry for as little as a few thousand years."
Mariner 6 (launched 24 February 1969) and Mariner 7 (launched 27 March 1969)
returned 58 pictures of the planet on their fly-byes, providing new details of
Mars' poles. The first spacecraft to land on Mars was the Russian Mars III in
1971, but most of what we know of Mars' surface was obtained from Mariner 9
(launched 30 May 1971), the first probe to go into orbit around another
planet, and the Viking Orbiter in 1976. Probes launched from Viking 1 landed
20 July 1976 in Chryse, and 3 September 1976 in Utopia. No data could be
gathered for several weeks because of a dust storm.
Viking I is located at 22.5319 N 48.2217 W. Carl Sagan (b. 9 November 1934,
New York NY; d. 20 December 1996) noted the fall in surface temperatures
during this time. He wrote of the "nuclear winter" which would
surely follow a nuclear bomb explosion on Earth, when dust obscures warmth
from the Sun; an appropriate lesson from Mars, the god of war.
Since these early successes a number of Soviet Union and US missions have
ended in failure, costing billions of pounds. From 1988 to the end of the
Millennium there had been 18 documented failures, including:
1988 Phobos 1 - contact lost
1989 Phobos 2 - orbited successfully but contact lost
1993 The 980 million dollar spacecraft Mars Observer went silent, just three
days before reaching Mars
1996 Mars 96 - Failed to leave Earth orbit
1997 Mars Surveyor - successful but damaged
1998 Japanese probe - missed slingshot burn
1999 Mars Climate Observer - destroyed in atmosphere
On 15 September 1997, the successful Mars Global Surveyor discovered that
Mars possesses a magnetic field an 800th the strength of the Earth's magnetic
field, far stronger than expected since Mars was thought to be geologically
inactive. A magnetic field is necessary to sustain life since it fends off
damaging, sterilising cosmic rays. The same mission suggested that the
northern lowlands were once criss-crossed by huge channels, now buried, 125
miles wide and 1,000 miles long, that formed when enormous volumes of water
flowed across the surface, possibly in the form of an ocean. Dark streaks and
lines were also recorded, now known to be the work of dust devils, often found
in dry, desert landscapes. These are spinning columns of air, rather like
miniature tornadoes, that move across the landscape when the ground heats up,
causing air to rise and heat, forming a visible vortex.
Mars Pathfinder landed in Mars' Ares Valley flood plain (19.5N 32.8W) on 4
July 1997, and dispatched the Sojourner rover to find the landing site and
local area scattered with rounded pebbles and cobbles that had been formed as
a result of a geologically "alive" planet.
Mars Climate Orbiter was destroyed as it entered orbit on arrival at Mars on
23 September 1999. This was apparently because the navigation team was using
newtons (metric units) and the spacecraft team was assuming pounds of force
(imperial units). Mars Polar Lander with its Deep Space 2 Microprobes was
expected to land on Mars on 3 December 1999 but without Climate Orbiter to act
as radio relay it failed to return any signals and was presumed lost or
damaged, probably having crashed on impact.
It was also found that polarity of Mars must have several times switched from
north to south and back, just as the Earth polarity does, as this is recorded
in its rocks. This indicates that Mars' crust has been subject to tectonic
plate movement as magma was ejected from the poles switch. Though this
activity seems to have long since ceased, it shows that Mars was more
Earth-like in its past.
Two golf-cart sized NASA robots are due to land in contrasting areas of Mars
to roam its surface in 2004, searching for conclusive evidence that Mars
contained water. They will be about 4ft high and at 250lb will be seven times
heavier than the Sojourner rover, and will cover 300 ft per day. Each
will be equipped with about 10 cameras including one with close-up facilities,
and will use light analysers to study the make up of the rocks they encounter.
The British Beagle 2 probe is also due to land on Mars in 2004.
The Galle Crater has a naturally occurring "Smiley" face, and is
nicknamed Happy Face Crater. Images taken on NASA's Mars missions, the first
taken from Viking on 25 July 1976 and discovered by Tobias Owen at Jet
Propulsion Laboratory later the same day, have shown a feature on Mars'
surface (c. 40°N). The feature, at Marson in the Cydonia Mensae (Cydonia
Plain) region, resembles a humanoid face structure, complete with eyes and
teeth. When geologist Harold Musursky was shown this, he remarked, "This
is the guy that built all of Lowell's canals!"
Although debunked by NASA and other astronomer/scientists, some independent
research by investigators such as Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar has
supported the theory that the face was artificially created. Mars Observer,
launched 25 September 1992, was due to map areas of the Martian surface,
including the Cydonia Plain, but on 21 August 1993, just before going into
orbit, controllers shut off the radio link, which could not then be
Some pyramidal shapes were found in the Elysium Quadrangle (15N 198W), first
photographed by Mariner 9 on 8 February 1972, and reported in 1974 as
appearing to many to be artificial. They are larger than those found in Egypt,
Mexico and Sumer. Other smaller pyramids occur in the Cydonia region, on the
other side of Mars, and their pattern has subsequently been shown, using
fractals, to be non-random and not accountable by known geological process.
The theory is that if Martians had existed 400,000 years ago, during our
Neanderthal Age, they could have created the pyramids and the Face; and since
the line between the two structures lies at 23.5°N of due east, it has been
suggested that these pyramids had a solstice-like function. In 1997, Thomas
Van Flandern published a paper proposing that the Face had once been located
close to the old Martian equator, when it had a "face-upright"
orientation. He found this consistent with his hypothesis that Mars had been
the moon of a larger planet since exploded.
Both of NASA's landing sites were rock strewn. A rusty-red ferrous oxide
material was much in evidence on its surface, indicating from the absence of
oxygen that its combustion process ended long ago. Old streambeds were
detectable, and the sky was pink, a result of the thin Martian atmosphere.
Despite the presence of running water in the past, no traces of Martian life
of any kind were found. However, soil analysis tests indicated that nitrogen
and oxygen could have formed the ancient Mars atmosphere, and a magnetosphere
could have shielded the planet from radiation effects before asteroids
bombarded the surface.
It is now speculated that impacts from these large asteroids early in Mars'
history may have briefly vaporized its huge deposits of buried water and enveloped Mars in a
water vapour-charged atmosphere, drenching the surface with rain and a
superheated debris of rock. Computer models predict that this would have
ultimately created, "a cold and dry planet, an almost endless winter broken by episodes of scalding rains followed by
flash floods", according to Teresa L Segura at the NASA-Ames Research
Mars' north polar cap is made up of water ice, the south polar cap of carbon
dioxide ice, and both wax and wane with the seasons. The Northern Hemisphere
is both smoother and lower than the Southern; suggesting any surface water in
Mars' history flowed north, possibly forming a sizeable ocean. Molecular
hydrogen has been identified in the upper atmosphere of Mars, so it could at
one time have had relatively more water than Earth.
It is estimated that 100 tons of Martian material falls to Earth each year,
some of it in the form of SNC meteorites. These are named from Shergotty,
Nakhla and Chassingy, the first three to be found that are known to have
originated on Mars.
A meteorite from Mars (Allan Hills 84001, or ALH84001) was recovered from
Antarctica in 1984. It was blasted from Mars' surface by asteroid/comet
impact, and was cool enough to allow extra-terrestrial bugs to hitch a ride,
not heating above 40°C. After millions of years of drifting in space, it fell
within Earth's gravitational field, where it fell 12,000 years ago. It has
shown that Mars was once warm and wet, with fast-flowing water on its surface,
or just below. It suggests that Mars' atmosphere consisted of carbon dioxide,
enriched in Carbon-13 and water deficient in Oxygen-18. Its temperature would
have been between 0 and 8°C. The water may still remain, frozen in polar
regions or locked up in rocks. The 42lb meteorite, of igneous rock, about 4.5
billion years old, probably came from the ancient region (Noachian Age) of
Mars, the cratered highlands, at 5°S 146°W, near its equator, in the
NASA on 6 August 1996 announced this same fossilised meteorite to be a
possible host of bacteria, suggesting the existing of primitive life on Mars.
Bacteria were later found occurring in the Antarctic ice in which it was
embedded, suggesting a sampling error, but the meteorite did contain
carbonated globules. These were formed perhaps 4 billion years ago in the
presence of liquid water, and within the globules, a worm-like structure
resembling bacteria was found, as well as magnetite crystals and organic
molecules produced by bacterial decomposition. It is thought that these are of
Martian origin. These findings all support the hypothesis that meteorites can
transfer life between planets in the solar system, but the proof of existence
of extra-terrestrial life cannot be concluded solely from this evidence.
Tests carried out on the composition of the so-called "Barnacle
Bill" rock show it to be similar to rocks on Earth's crust. "The
rounded pebbles and cobbles and the possible conglomeration," reported Dr
Matthew Golombek of the Jet Propulsion Lab, Pasadena CA, "the abundant
sand and dust-sized particles and models for their origin, and the high-silica
rock all appear consistent with a water-rich planet that may be more
Earth-like than previously recognised, with a warmer and wetter past in which
liquid water was stable and the atmosphere thicker."
It was later found that magnetic crystals from ALH84001 were identical to
grains produced by Earth bacteria called MV-1. Samples were re-analysed at the
Lockhead Martin Corporation in the US in a study led by Dr Kathie Thomas-Kepra,
who concluded in December 2000 "If you take an individual magnetite
crystal from the Mars rock and one produced by terrestrial bacteria you would
see that they are indistinguishable. If you did not know that this rock was
from Mars, and if you studied it, you would conclude that it contains evidence
for past life. But some people just cannot make the leap to believe that it
may contain evidence of past life on Mars."
A second SNC meteorite, EETA 7901, was also found by scientists at the Open
University to contain life's chemical signatures. They announced in October
1996 that it contained evidence of "organisms that could have existed on
Mars as recently as 600,000 years ago."
Manned expeditions to Mars in the future are likely, and the planet could be
colonised within the next century, but at present astronauts on the two-year
round trip to Mars would be senile by the time they returned, from Alzheimer's
Disease. Cosmic rays, minute particles of iron and other heavy elements from
deep space, would rip into the ship and their brains at over 150,000 miles per
second. On Earth we are protected by the Van Allen belts, which absorb these.
The symbol for Mars, the Light of the Aggressor, denotes the circle of
spirit from which an arrow shoots forth, expressing a life force directed out
into the world. It depicts Mars' shield and lance. It is also a phallic
symbol, and in biology and medicine this symbol also stands for maleness.
Mars or Ares was a violent and destructive god in myth, representing the
primal and necessary urge to survive and triumph over the environment. In
Roman mythology Mars was also worshipped as a god of fertility. Babylonians
called Mars the Star of Death, associated with carnage, plagues and disaster.
The Egyptians called him Artes, the Hebrews Madim, a word closely linked with
Adam, the first man. Mars has planetary rulership of Tuesday (Mardi), Tuesco
being the Saxon identification of Mars. The Romans dedicated their first
month, following the spring equinox, to Mars, and adopted from the Greeks the
rulership by Mars, god of war, with Scorpio. Our equivalent month is March.
Mars is the traditional day ruler of Scorpio and night ruler of Aries. In
esoteric astrology Mars again rules Scorpio. Because the boundaries of the
constellations were changed in 1928, the Sun now only spends 9 days in
Scorpio. The rest of the month it is to be found in the constellation Ophiucus.
In traditional astrology Mars had come to be considered the Lesser Malefic.
Now it is seen in terms of our self-related needs and expresses itself through
aggressive, competitive and assertive behaviour; but it can be a source of
inspiration and joy through its life-affirming, energising positivity,
producing courage, strength, and endurance. Mars represents the residual
animal left in man, enabling him to assert his aggression and prey on those
weaker than himself. Mars is the fuel that powers the ego, the assertion of
self rather than will, constantly in search of challenge and competition. It
also embodies our sex drives. Connected with left-side brain areas it
represents the masculine side of nature, although common to both sexes. Its
significators are physical activity; initiative and action; the ability to
meet challenges and overcome obstacles; our need to assert our will and obtain
demands; the survival of the fittest; acting first, thinking later; promoting
conflict and disorder to eradicate apathy and restore unity; how we are
In 1955 Michel Gauquelin demonstrated from his studies of 570 French
sportsmen, made over 6 years, that champion athletes were more likely to be
born with Mars rising or on their midheaven. This finding was termed the Mars
Effect and has been used as a statistical vindication of astrology, although
many other astrological claims have not been borne out by the Mars Effect
THE MOONS OF MARS
Most astrologers would agree that the Moon is fairly important in our
horoscope. Indeed, it has been said that eighty per cent of the time, we are
working with our Moons, so it is perhaps surprising, therefore, that no other
moon is given any account in astrological work, since ours is by no means the
only moon in the Solar System. A moon is any satellite that revolves around
its parent planet. With the exception of the two planets that lie between
Earth and the Sun, every planet has at least one moon, as do several
asteroids, such as Pallas Athene and Victoria.
One reason for this state of affairs must be the vast distances of the planets
from us, and the difficulty of differentiating between a planet's influence
and that of its moons, since we tend to regard a planet as a single pinpoint.
Nevertheless, the moons surely form a part of the whole and make a fascinating
and subtle addition to our astrological realm. Mars has two moons, discovered
18 August 1877 by Asaph Hall (b. 15 October 1829, Goshen CT; d. 22 November
1907) at the US Naval Observatory, Washington DC. It also has at least one
Phobos, the inner satellite, has an almost circular orbit 5,760.25 miles from
the centre of Mars, closer than any other known satellite to its parent, and a
revolution period of 7 hr 38' 27", less than one sol. Its most prominent
feature is a large crater facing towards the planet, called Stickney.
Deimos also has a near circular orbit, at a distance of 14,540.5 miles from
Mars and revolves once every 1 day 6 hr 21' 16". Their orbits are
synchronous, always keeping the same sides facing the red planet, and are so
unusual that in the 1950s they were assumed to be Martian space stations.
Russian scientists suggested they were hollow, and created by ancient
Martians, though Iosif Shklovsky admitted in 1982 that this had been a
Both have an orbit within 2° of the Martian equatorial plane and are
ellipsoidal in shape, Phobos being 17.4 miles and Deimos 9.9 miles across.
They are covered with a surprisingly thick layer of dust or regolith, and have
small craters, the two most prominent being Swift and Voltaire on Deimos.
Phobos and Deimos were probably formed within the asteroid belt and are
probably broken bits of asteroids that were perturbed by Jupiter into orbits
that led to their capture by Mars during its accretion from the solar nebula.
Phobos (fear) and Deimos (terror, panic) were named by Asaph Hall in 1877
after the mythical characters who drove the chariot of the war god Mars.
Astrologically, the qualities of fear and panic underlie the principle of
projecting the self in the manner indicated by the Martian nature. The
motivation by fear and panic may account for some of the impetuousness
associated with Mars. Martian moon energies may manifest when senses of
confinement, entrapment or hopelessness overwhelm us. Sensations of urgency,
isolation or unfullfillment will release subconscious Phobos and Deimos
motivations for activity, happening faster than the mind's logical processes,
resulting in action without thought or reason.
Last updated 30 November 2003