NASA's newest Mars mission lands on Monday — here are 13 incredible facts you should know about the red planet

Samantha Lee/Business InsiderMars is one of the most-visited yet mysterious planets in the solar system.
  • NASA’s InSight Mars lander will try to land around 3 p.m. ET on Monday, November 26.
  • The robotic probe could be the first Mars mission to measure the “vital signs” of the world and decode its internal structure.
  • From skyscraper-size tsunamis to eerie blue sunsets, here are some surprising facts you may not know about the red planet.

NASA is about to land InSight: a new $US830-million Mars lander that will probe the red planet’s secrets like never before.

InSight lifted off in May and is expected to land on Monday, but it’s just one of dozens of robotic and satellite missions that humanity has rocketed to Mars over the decades.

Read more: Watch live video coverage of NASA’s InSight probe landing on Mars

These spacecraft have beamed back dazzling photos, inspired sci-fi movies like “The Martian“, and even helped give Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, the idea to colonize the red planet with the Big Falcon Rocket.

While scientists readily admit they have much to learn about Mars, including the planet’s internal structure (a mystery InSight will try to solve), what we have found out so far is incredible.

Here are 13 fascinating facts about Mars and our robotic exploration of the red planet.


Samantha Lee/Business InsiderVolcanoes on Mars dwarf those on Earth.

Olympus Mons is more than twice as high as Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the tallest mountain on Earth from top to bottom.


Samantha Lee/Business InsiderThe Grand Canyon has nothing on Valles Marineris.

Compared to the Grand Canyon on Earth, Valles Marineris on Mars is nearly five times deeper, about four times longer, and 20 times wider.

Mars quakes

Samantha Lee/Business InsiderThere are a few ways to rumble the red planet.

The red planet doesn’t have plate tectonics, which is what causes most quakes on Earth. But rising plumes of magma could trigger Mars quakes, as could meteorite impacts and the contraction of the world due to cooling. InSight will listen for them with its seismometer.


Samantha Lee/Business InsiderPools of water could be where life on Mars got its start.

If aliens existed on Mars, they might have lived in oasis-like pools. These pools would have been habitable for life, just as they are on Earth.


Samantha Lee/Business InsiderYou wouldn’t want to get hit with an ancient Martian tsunami.

Martian oceans also had tsunamis like those on Earth. The tallest may have reached as high as 400 feet, just slightly shorter than the London Eye.

Ice Caps

Samantha Lee/Business InsiderMelting Mars’ ice caps would help terraform the planet into a cosy world.

Like Earth, Mars has ice caps at its poles. The northern cap is up to 2 miles deep, is a mix of water and carbon dioxide, and covers an area slightly larger than Texas.


Samantha Lee/Business InsiderOn average, Mars is a frigid planet because it has almost no atmosphere.

The average surface temperature on Mars is -81˚F, 138 degrees chillier than on Earth. But on a mid-summer day at the red planet’s equator, temperatures can peak at a balmy 95˚F.


Samantha Lee/Business InsiderMars didn’t have a lot of water.

Billions of years ago, Mars had oceans and flowing water. But adding them up would give you just 1.5% of all water on Earth today.

Surface Area

Samantha Lee/Business InsiderMars is a small planet compared to Earth.

Mars has almost as much surface as Earth has land – but that doesn’t account for the 71% of Earth that’s covered in water.


Samantha Lee/Business InsiderMars’ thin atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), oxygen (O2), and argon (Ar).

The Martian atmosphere is 61 times thinner than Earth’s, and it consists almost entirely of carbon dioxide, which makes up just 0.04% of Earth’s atmosphere.


Samantha Lee/Business InsiderSunsets on Mars are blue.

On Earth, sunsets are a brilliant mix of reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, and other colours. But on Mars they’re blue. Because air is dozens of times less dense on the surface of Mars than it is on our planet, white sunlight refracts less – leading to fewer colours (primarily blues).

Launch rate

Samantha Lee/Business InsiderMissions to Mars have waxed and waned over the decades.

Missions to Mars have become much rarer – after 23 launches in the 1960s and 1970s, we’ve launched just 10 in the new millennium (so far). This count doesn’t include InSight.


Samantha Lee/Business InsiderThis tally doesn’t include InSight, which is an ongoing mission.

Getting to Mars is hard: About a third of the missions launched have failed.

NASA is hoping to add InSight to the “success” column on November 26.

This story has been updated. It was originally published on June 1, 2017.

Skye Gould and Diana Yukari contributed to this post, and Meghan Bartels wrote a previous version of it.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.