Quirks of the Red Planet


5 min readJul 9, 2023
Cydonia Region on Mars | Credit: NASA

Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, has been the subject of a lot of sci-fi works and fascination going back as early as the late 1800s with novels like “Aleriel, or a Voyage to Other Worlds” written by W. S. Lach-Szyrma in 1839 in which a visitor from Venus relates the details of the Martian society to Earthlings. Its distinct red shape which is visible even through the naked eye has given it the title of “The Red Planet”. Mars has also been nominated as a viable outpost for the human civilization to reside in one day. Even though the terraforming of Mars is a popular topic nowadays, it’s not as similar to Earth as we might think.

The temperature on Mars varies greatly depending on its latitude, season, and time of day. During the day, temperatures can reach up to 20°C, while during the night they drop to -73°C. The average temperature on Mars is around -60°C, which makes it inhospitable for human life. The cold temperatures are due to the planet’s distance from the sun and its thin atmosphere, which is not able to trap heat effectively.

Mars’ atmosphere is composed mostly of carbon dioxide, with traces of nitrogen and argon. The atmospheric pressure on the planet is only 1% that of Earth’s, making it difficult for liquid water to exist on the surface. The thin atmosphere also makes it vulnerable to intense solar wind, which strips away the planet’s protective shield and causes dust storms. These dust storms can grow to be as large as the size of the entire planet, making it difficult to see the surface.

One of the most interesting environmental quirks of Mars is the presence of water. Mars has evidence of frozen water at its poles, as well as subsurface liquid water. The presence of water on Mars is important because it suggests that the planet may have supported life in the past or may still support life today. Scientists believe that water may have once existed on the planet in a liquid form, and that it may still exist underground in pockets.

Now that we’re through with the informatics, let’s dive into the pop culture side of Martian myths and peculiarities.

“Face on Mars” Small part of the Cydonia region | Credit: NASA

One of the most iconic and debated formations is the infamous “Face on Mars.” Captured by NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter in 1976, the image revealed a mesa-like formation in the Cydonia region that strikingly resembled a human face. Conspiracy theories immediately surfaced, suggesting the possibility of an ancient Martian civilization. However, subsequent high-resolution images and missions, such as NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, provided more detailed views that clarified the mesa’s true nature as a natural formation, eroding the notion of a monumental face created by intelligent beings.

“Martian Sphinx” (Top Right Corner) | Credit: Curiosity Rover/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Adjacent to the “Face on Mars,” another enigmatic formation resembling a sphinx emerged. With a body similar to that of a lion and a humanoid head, this feature further fueled speculation about an ancient civilization. However, closer examination revealed it to be a result of erosion and geological processes, forming a coincidental resemblance to a sphinx-like figure.

Barchan Dunes | Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Mars boasts vast expanses of sand dunes, creating mesmerizing landscapes reminiscent of extraterrestrial worlds. Some dunes appear strikingly similar to patterns found on Earth, including the iconic barchan dunes with their crescent shape. These Martian dunes, sculpted by wind and sand movement, exhibit alien-like characteristics, resembling ripples on a colossal cosmic canvas.

Inverted Craters | Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

In certain areas of Mars, inverted craters can be observed, presenting an intriguing illusion. Instead of the typical bowl-shaped depression caused by meteor impacts, these craters appear as raised structures. This phenomenon occurs when the crater’s surroundings experience erosion or deposition processes that gradually bury the crater floor, leaving the raised rim as a testament to the ancient impact.

Martian Araneiforms | Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

In the southern hemisphere of Mars, there are regions characterized by peculiar, spider-like formations. These features, known as “araneiforms,” consist of a central depression connected to branching channels resembling spider legs. Initially thought to be caused by water or carbon dioxide ice, recent studies suggest that these formations result from the seasonal carbon dioxide ice sublimation process, where carbon dioxide gas trapped beneath the ice escapes, eroding the surface and creating spider-like patterns.

Martian Blueberries | Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/USGS

Mars is sprinkled with tiny, spherical formations known as “blueberries” or “Martian hematite concretions.” These small mineral concretions, ranging in size from a few millimeters to a few centimeters, were first discovered by the Opportunity rover in 2004. They are composed mainly of hematite, an iron oxide mineral. The resemblance to small alien berries sparked imagination and speculation, but they are the result of geological processes, such as the precipitation of iron-rich fluids in the Martian soil.

Let’s talk about our own efforts to explore Mars. Mars has proven to be a challenging destination for space exploration. Over the years, several missions to Mars have ended in failure, resulting in lost spacecraft scattered across the planet’s surface. These remnants of human technology lying abandoned on Mars evoke a sense of abandonment and mystery, creating an eerie reminder of our own attempts to reach out into the unknown.

The alien-like formations found on Mars are captivating and have often led to speculation about the possibility of extraterrestrial life. While these formations can appear uncannily similar to familiar objects, creatures, or sculptures, they are primarily the product of natural geological processes such as erosion, weathering, and deposition. Despite the absence of conclusive evidence for alien life on Mars, these enigmatic features continue to ignite our curiosity, pushing us to explore and unravel the mysteries of the Red Planet further. As future missions and advancements in technology continue to enhance our understanding of Mars, the allure of these alien-like formations will persist, inviting us to contemplate the possibility of life beyond Earth.




The official blog of SEDS-VIT, Indian Headquarters of the Global NPO, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.