Interest in the Red Planet stemmed in no small part from its vividly red complexion and, even early on, led some to long for communication with Martians.
Mars is named for the Roman god of war because of its color--red--the color of blood. In Greek his name is Ares. In other cultures he has different names, but his character is still the same. His symbol is a shield with a spear behind it. His two moons are Phobos and Deimos, fear and terror.
Photos. Phobos (left) and Deimos (right). Courtesy of NASA, JPL.
Over the last 350 years, scientists have helped ignite our passion for studying Mars. Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens discovered the first Martian surface feature in November of 1659. He was the first to identify Syrtis Major, a dark, prominent triangle on Mars's surface which seemed to change size with the seasons on Mars. Mars takes nearly two Earth years to orbit the Sun, so its seasons are twice as long as Earth's. After long study, Huygens concluded that Mars rotates every 24.6 hours--almost like Earth's 24 hours. Giovanni Domenico Cassini discovered Mars's polar ice caps, which also change size with the seasons. Some people considered, since Mars appeared to be so similar to Earth, that the red planet might also have intelligent life.
Photo. The Sytris Major region of Mars is now known to be not one dark feature but a series of dark streaks leading away from a number of small craters. Thought to be wind-blown dunes of the dark Martian sand, Sytris Major also features several craters with bright, light streaks that possibly indicate a difference in the type of sand in those particular spots. Courtesy of NASA.
In 1802 German mathematician Karl Friedrich Gauss suggested Earth should send a signal to any Martians who might exist. His signal was going to be massive geometric shape in the Siberian snow. A right triangle would show extraterrestrial observers that there was intelligent life on Earth.
Lunar cartographers Wilhelm Beer and Johann Heinrich von Madler had a private observatory in the Berlin Tiergarten. Based on visual drawings of Mars made in 1830 and 1832, they completed the first chart of Mars's surface around 1834.
An astute observer by the name of Father Petro Angelo Secchi assigned names to several of the colored features for the first time. He did most of his observing at the College Observatory of Rome. Richard Anthony Proctor, an English astronomer and author, created the first chart to use a system of names in 1867. He used 27 drawings done by William R. Dawes. These drawings were two-hemisphere orthographic charts. The Martian features were named after prominent astronomers who had studied Mars.
Mission to Mars. An educational site created for the ThinkQuest contest.