Is Mars actually Red?

Since ancient times, Mars has always managed to capture the attention of humanity, as well as its imagination: Ancient Romans named Mars after the god of war and the agricultural guardian, while Ancient Egyptians, when noticing Mars’s fiery glow in the night sky, called it the “Red One.” Such a name choice is quite suitable considering that, from the surface of Earth, Mars does appear to be red. However, is the surface of Mars actually as red as it appears to be when viewing it from Earth? If so, where does Mars’s red color come from? 

Is the surface of Mars actually red?

Mars planet
Mars Valles Marineris imaged by NASA

NASA’s landers, orbiters, and rovers have all been sent to the surface of Mars to discover the long-awaited answer to this question. Though Mars appears to be red when we gaze at it in the night sky, the truth that these intergalactic investigators uncovered is that the surface of Mars is a colorful mixture of butterscotch, golden, tan, brown, and green depending on what minerals comprise it [1]. So the “Red One,” as the Ancient Egyptians called it, is, in fact, only red when seen from the surface of Earth.

Why, then, does Mars appear red?

Mars’s red appearance is the result of iron oxidation. Mars has an extremely iron-rich surface and when this iron oxidizes, it becomes a rusty red color. This is the same compound that gives blood its deep red hue. As the composition of Mars’s surface is very dusty, this oxidized iron eventually becomes suspended in its atmosphere, making Mars appear red when viewed from distant places such as Earth. This is why we could only realize Mars’s actual color when NASA ventured past its atmosphere and on to its surface.

Where did Mars’s rust come from?

Without the help of sample return missions, it would have been impossible for us to determine the chemical composition of Mars’s crust. Return missions are spacecraft missions that collect samples from an extraterrestrial planet and bring them home to Earth. Based on the analysis of these samples, scientists purport that the most abundant chemical elements in Mars’s crust include silicon, oxygen, iron, magnesium, aluminum, calcium, and potassium. Obviously, when large amounts of the iron in Mars’s crust are exposed to oxygen, Mars has a greater rust-colored surface area.

In conclusion, following their diligent efforts to unveil more details concerning the mysterious planet of Mars, NASA has concluded that the actual color of Mars’s surface is an assorted mixture of the colors butterscotch, golden, tan, brown, and green. These colors are caused by the varied mixture of minerals that make up the surface of Mars. However, though Mars itself is not red, its renowned red-colored identity is not unwarranted: when the iron found in Mars’s surface oxidizes and becomes suspended in its atmosphere, the planet appears red from far-off distances, including our planet, Earth.

Summary

Following the diligent efforts by scientists to unveil more details concerning the mysterious planet of Mars, NASA has concluded that the actual color of Mars’s surface is an assorted mixture of the colors butterscotch, golden, tan, brown, and green. These colors are caused by the varied mixture of minerals that make up the surface of Mars. However, though Mars itself is not red, its renowned red-colored identity is not unwarranted: when the iron found in Mars’s surface oxidizes and becomes suspended in its atmosphere, the planet appears red from far-off distances, including our planet, Earth.

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