Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and smaller than every other planet except Mercury. This planet is about one half the size of Earth.
Due to its reddish color the planet was named for the Roman god of war.The red comes from iron oxide dust in the atmosphere. In a sense, the planet is rusting.
As this dust oxidizes it gets swept up into massive dust-storms that can cover the planet surface. The planet is more of a orange yellow-brownish.
Unfortunately, because of atmospheric interference here on Earth, mostly only really large surface features can be resolved via telescope when backyard stargazing.
The Hellas Impact Basic is the largest crater visible from Earth. In a mid-sized(6-8in./150-200mm.) telescope it may be seen. There are plenty of craters on the surface.
Olympus Mons is the tallest volcano in the Solar System. Three times the size of Mount Everest.
Valles Marineris is a huge Canyon about 10 times the length and 3 times the depth of the Grand Canyon. This canyon is about 20% the circumference of the planet and is close to the length of Europe.
Tilted on its axis similar to us there are seasons just like on Earth. Seasons there though last about 6 months each as it takes almost 2 years our time for a year.
A year is almost 687 days long compared to 365 here on Earth.
The day is about the same as on Earth as it takes 24 hours and 40 seconds for a day/night cycle.
During opposition the planet goes through retrograde motion as Earth passes it in orbit. This is a great time to view the red planet as it is closet to Earth at this time.
This retrograde motion lasts a little more than two months and Mars becomes very bright.
Because of the time difference between the two planet's orbits, opposition occurs about every 2 years.
Every 15-17 years at perihelion the distance between the planets is at its smallest during opposition. This offers a chance for even better telescopic viewing for the stargazer.
Mars has two moons or natural satellites. They were discovered by Asaph Hall in 1877. They were named for the children of Ares the Greek god of war. Phobos-which means panic, and Deimos-meaning dread, follow Ares into battle.Celestial Solar System › PLANETS › Mars