Mars is named for the Roman god of war. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere (less than 1% that of Earth’s), and has a crust primarily composed of elements similar to Earth’s crust, as well as a core made of iron and nickel. Mars has surface features such as impact craters, valleys, dunes and polar ice caps. It has two small and irregularly shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos.
Some of the most notable surface features on Mars include Olympus Mons, the largest volcano and highest known mountain in the Solar System and Valles Marineris, one of the largest canyons in the Solar System. The Borealis basin in the Northern Hemisphere covers approximately 40% of the planet and may be a large impact feature.
Days and seasons on Mars are comparable to those of Earth, as the planets have a similar rotation period and tilt of the rotational axis relative to the ecliptic plane. Liquid water on the surface of Mars cannot exist due to low atmospheric pressure, which is less than 1% of the atmospheric pressure on Earth. Both of Mars’s polar ice caps appear to be made largely of water. In the distant past, Mars was likely wetter, and thus possibly more suited for life. It is not known whether life has ever existed on Mars.
The atmosphere of Mars consists of about 96% carbon dioxide, 1.93% argon and 1.89% nitrogen along with traces of oxygen and water. The atmosphere is quite dusty, containing particulates about 1.5 µm in diameter which give the Martian sky a tawny color when seen from the surface. It may take on a pink hue due to iron oxide particles suspended in it.
The concentration of methane in the Martian atmosphere fluctuates from about 0.24 ppb during the northern winter to about 0.65 ppb during the summer. Estimates of its lifetime range from 0.6 to 4 years, so its presence indicates that an active source of the gas must be present. Methane could be produced by non-biological process such as serpentinization involving water, carbon dioxide, and the mineral olivine, which is known to be common on Mars, or by Martian life.