Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System, being larger than only Mercury. In English, Mars carries the name of the Roman god of war and is often referred to as the “Red Planet”. The latter refers to the effect of the iron oxide prevalent on Mars’s surface, which gives it a reddish appearance, that is distinctive among the astronomical bodies visible to the naked eye. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, with surface features reminiscent of the impact craters of the Moon, and the valleys, deserts and polar ice caps of Earth.
The days and seasons are comparable to those of Earth because the rotation period as well as the tilt of the rotational axis relative to the ecliptic plane are similar. Mars is the site of Olympus Mons, the largest volcano and highest known mountain on any planet 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, like 5261 Eureka, a Mars trojan.
Mars has been explored by several uncrewed spacecraft. Mariner 4 was the first spacecraft to visit Mars; launched by NASA on 28 November 1964, it made its closest approach to the planet on 15 July 1965. Mariner 4 detected the weak Martian radiation belt, measured at about 0.1% that of Earth, and captured the first images of another planet from deep space. The latest spacecraft to successfully land on Mars are CNSA’s Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover, landed on 14 May 2021. Zhurong rover was successfully deployed on 22 May 2021, which makes China the second country to successfully deploy a rover on Mars, after the United States.
There are investigations assessing the past habitability of Mars, as well as the possibility of extant life. Astrobiology missions are planned, such as the European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover. 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, except at the lowest elevations for short periods. The two polar ice caps appear to be made largely of water.
Mars can easily be seen from Earth with the naked eye, as can its reddish coloring. Its apparent magnitude reaches −2.94, which is surpassed only by Venus, the Moon and the Sun. Optical ground-based telescopes are typically limited to resolving features about 300 kilometres (190 mi) across when Earth and Mars are closest because of Earth’s atmosphere.