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Known as the Red Planet and one of the smaller planets in our solar system, Mars is about half the size of earth. It's diameter is 4,216 miles and it orbits the sun every 1.9 years. When looking at Mars through a telescope it appears to be an orange ball with dark markings. Astronomers at one time thought these markings were canals or plant life but recent space probes show them to be optical illusions caused by a reddish the reddish dust in Mars atmosphere which covered dark rock and craters. The surface of Mars is pitted with craters formed by meteorite impacts and large volcanoes. One of the largest volcanoes on Mars is called Olympus Mons. This volcano alone is approximately 15 miles tall and 370 miles in width. Many of the volcanoes are active shooting out plumes of clouds containing a watery ice trail.
Space probes, searching for life forms on the planet, were launched in 1976. When the two Viking spacecraft landed on Mars it was learned the surface is a lifeless red, stony desert. Dust particles blowing into the atmosphere of the planet made the sky around the planet appear to be pink. On one area of Mars an enormous series of valleys were discovered and named Valles Marineris. Although no water was found on Mars, evidence of ancient dried-up rivers was found. Over 50,000 pictures of Mars was sent back to earth by the Viking spacecraft. Some show spiraling cloud patterns very similar to those found in storms here on earth.
The planet Mars has two small moons that appear to be irregular cratered masses of rock which lack the gravity to create a round surface. Both are very dark in color which have cause scientist to speculate about both being asteroids which were captured by Mars gravity. Phobos is approximately 15 miles in diameter and Deimos is 8 miles in diameter.