In 1973, the USSR launched Mars 5, on a Proton SL-12/D-1-e booster. It was one of several Soviet Mars probes – Mars 4, 5, 6, and 7 – launched in Jul-Aug 1973. The Mars 5 mission was to orbit Mars, which was achieved on 12 Feb 1974. Each orbit took about 25 hours. It was designed to return information on the composition, structure, and properties of the martian atmosphere and surface. However, after only 22 orbits, the mission ended prematurely due to loss of pressurization in the transmitter housing. Before the failure, data for a small portion of the martian southern hemisphere was captured with about 60 images forwarded over a nine day period. The probe also sent more measurements made by other instruments.
|Mars in natural colour in 2007. By ESA – European Space Agency & Max-Planck Institute for Solar System Research for OSIRIS Team ESA/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo (http://ift.tt/1wBCVB0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System, after Mercury. Named after the Roman god of war, it is often referred to as the “Red Planet” because the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, having surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the Moon and the valleys, deserts, and polar ice caps of Earth.
The rotational period and seasonal cycles of Mars are likewise similar to those of Earth, as is the tilt that produces the seasons. Mars is the site of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano and second-highest known mountain in the Solar System, and of Valles Marineris, one of the largest canyons in the Solar System. The smooth Borealis basin in the northern hemisphere covers 40% of the planet and may be a giant impact feature. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, which are small and irregularly shaped. These may be captured asteroids, similar to 5261 Eureka, a Mars trojan.
There are ongoing investigations assessing the past habitability potential of Mars, as well as the possibility of extant life. Liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars due to low atmospheric pressure, which is less than 1% of the Earth’s, except at the lowest elevations for short periods. The two polar ice caps appear to be made largely of water. The volume of water ice in the south polar ice cap, if melted, would be sufficient to cover the entire planetary surface to a depth of 11 meters (36 ft). In November 2016, NASA reported finding a large amount of underground ice in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars.
The volume of water detected has been estimated to be equivalent to the volume of water in Lake Superior.
Mars can easily be seen from Earth with the naked eye, as can its reddish coloring. Its apparent magnitude reaches −2.91, which is surpassed only by Jupiter, Venus, the Moon, and the Sun. Optical ground-based telescopes are typically limited to resolving features about 300 kilometers (190 mi) across when Earth and Mars are closest because of Earth’s atmosphere.
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