Moon and Mars

StarDate: January 21, 2014

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The long trip to Mars would likely be pretty dull — months of drifting through the solar system locked inside a fairly small space. But a trip across Mars just might make up for the boredom. The planet has mountains that are taller than the Himalayas, a canyon system that makes the Grand Canyon look like a drainage ditch, and expanses of desert that rival the Sahara.

Artist's concept of Olympus MonsArtist's concept of Olympus Mons [NASA/MOLA Team/et al]The giant mountains are extinct volcanoes along the Tharsis Ridge. The biggest of them all is Olympus Mons. It’s about 15 miles tall, and covers an area bigger than Missouri. Its base is ringed by cliffs that are up to five miles high. And the crater at its summit is so wide that if you stood on its rim, you couldn’t see the other side.

The canyon system is Valles Marineris. It’s as long as the United States is wide, and at its deepest it plunges more than four miles below the canyon’s walls.

And the Martian dunes cover thousands of square miles, and can be hundreds of feet tall. Like dunes on Earth, they move across the landscape — pushed by the relentless Martian winds. They help make the Martian surface an exciting place to visit — an adventure world for future generations.

Mars is in good view in the wee hours of the morning right now. Tomorrow, the planet stands to the upper left of the Moon at first light, shining like a bright orange star. The true star Spica is a little farther to the lower left of the Moon. We’ll have more about the Moon and Spica tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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