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24 September 2014
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Grap: Explore Mars with our astronomy expert
Pic: Mark Lawrik-Thompson
Norfolk astronomer and Chairman of the Norwich Astronomical Society Mark Lawrik-Thompson writes about the moon and galaxies far far away.

Picture: Planet Mars
Planet Mars is red because it's covered in iron oxide

Why is Mars red and is there any life on the planet?

Find out more with our kids' guide to astronomy by local astronomer Mark Lawrik-Thompson.

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Mars is the fourth planet away from the Sun and is about half the size of our planet Earth.

For many years, we used to think there might be life on Mars.

This came from astronomers who looked at the planet through really simple telescopes. They thought they could see dark lines all over the surface of the planet.

Picture: Mars ice cap
Mars even has ice
Have you got a question about Mars? Ask Mark

This made them think that the dark lines were actually huge alien-made rivers to carry water from the frozen north and south pole of the planet to the drier areas.

But since then, we have found that the telescopes they were using were so bad that the lines really weren't there and were just a trick of the eye.

We are now sure there is no intelligent life on Mars, but who knows, there may be really simple forms of life, maybe even simpler than the bacteria on the Earth.

Maybe one day, one of you will be the scientist who discovers life on Mars or somewhere else in space!

Why is Mars red?

Mars is red because it's covered in something called iron oxide. This is the proper name for rust. If you leave any metal object outside in the rain, the iron in the metal and the oxygen in the rain water join up to make iron oxide which we know as rust.

The surface of Mars is covered in the same sort of material giving it its red colour.

Picture: Volcano Mons
Volcano Olympus Mons on Mars

One other really amazing thing about Mars is that it's got the biggest known volcano in the Solar System.

This volcano is called Olympus Mons. It's so big that it would tower above the biggest volcanoes on the Earth.

It hasn't erupted for many thousands of years but if it ever does erupt we'll get a fantastic view from the Earth.

When can I see Mars?

If you want to try and see Mars then now is a good time. Go outside with an adult you know, during the middle of December 2003 and look south.

You should be able to see a red star-like object shining in the sky. This is Mars and the red colour comes from all that rust on the surface.

If you have trouble finding it on this day, take a look on Wednesday 31 December, 2003 and you will find it easily by first finding the Moon. Mars is the red object just below it.

If you're out and about looking for Mars or other things in the sky this Christmas and you hear a faint jingle around the end of the month, be sure to give Santa a wave as he goes on his way.

Of course if you happen to find a red star moving steadily across the sky, it's probably Rudolph's bright red nose guiding Santa on his way.

Got a question about Mars? Ask our astronomy expert, Mark »

Check out more astronomy stuff here »


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