The Mars Quiz


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Stocktrek Images / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Mars: It fascinates humans like no other planet in our Solar System. You could argue that Saturn rivals it, but Saturn is mostly an object of beauty, because of its dazzling rings. However, that planet isn't solid; it's a gas giant, ruling out the prospect of human habitability or intelligent, human-like life. After all, while "Saturnian" is a real word, it's "Martian" that calls up an immediate visual image of a little green man, possibly with an antenna. Exploration, colonization and war with potential inhabitants has long been a preoccupation for science-fiction writers.

The truth is a little less sexy. NASA and other nations' space agencies have sent orbiting and landing craft to Mars, and these missions have ruled out any sort of life there, although the discovery of water was exciting, as well as the discovery of conditions amenable to very basic microbial life. We stress the words "basic" and "microbial." As Spy magazine put it back in the mid-'90s, when this discovery was made: "Plans for a Martian vogue might be a little premature."

Never mind that -- Mars itself will never be out of vogue! It's our nearest neighbor, the Red Planet, named for the god of war. We won't be happy until we've sent human beings there, as we did the Moon. In fact, one expert is even predicting Mars tourism in the near future. Until that day, take an armchair trip to Mars with our wide-ranging quiz!

Where does Mars fall in the order of the Solar System's planets?

Our home, Earth, is the third planet from the Sun. Mars, its neighbor, is in the fourth position, at a fluctuating distance of between 128 million and 150 million miles from the Sun.


Mars is named for a god in which mythology?

We're sorry if you were tripped up by "Greek," but Greek and Roman aren't exactly the same mythologies. Same pantheon (mostly), but different names. In the Greek tradition, the god of war's name is Ares. This is what the Greeks call the planet, btw.


A common nickname for Mars is ...

To the naked eye, Mars appears as a reddish star of considerable brightness. This makes it easy to spot Mars, and gives the planet its nickname, which is also the title of more than one science-fiction book and movie.


What gives Mars its distinctive red color?

Mars has iron-rich soil. And, as on Earth, iron oxide is reddish in color (think of rust). Martian soil has also been found to be high in perchlorate, a salt that is dangerous to human health. This will be one of many considerations in attempts to colonize Mars.


The theoretical inhabitants of this planet were known as what?

One of the most famous examples of this adjective form is Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles." This is a collection of his pulp stories from the 1940s that involved Earth's colonization of Mars and the conflicts with the Martians who already live there.


How many moons does Mars have?

Mars is a smaller planet than Earth, but it is blessed with twice the number of moons. Their origin is not known, but one theory is that both are asteroids that were drawn into Mars's gravitational pull.


What are the names of Mars's moons?

"Phobos" means "fear" and "deimos" means "dread" in the Greek language. In other words, these are appropriate companions for war, as wherever war goes, these emotions follow along in its wake.


Mars is considered to be what type of planet?

The first four planets in the solar system are terrestrial planets, meaning they are made of solid geologic material. The other, outer planets are gaseous. There is no "aquatic" or "plasma-based" category, although those are the other two states of matter.


How thick is Mars' atmosphere, compared to Earth's?

This is one significant barrier to Mars colonization. Atmospheric pressure on Mars is not uniform, but at its densest, it is equal to an elevation of 115,000 feet on Earth. For comparison, Mt. Everest is only 26,000 feet, and the air there is too thin for all but the most well-adapted, fit climbers.


What element makes up about 96 percent of Mars's atmosphere?

While carbon dioxide is vital to biological processes, a nearly entire carbon dioxide atmosphere is not conducive to life. In comparison, Earth's atmosphere is about 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen, with trace gases making up the rest.


True or false: Mars is roughly equal in size to Earth.

Mars is about half the size of Earth. The only smaller planet in the Solar System is Mercury. The planet's composition is also less dense than that of Earth. Mars, we hate to say it, but you lack substance!


Mars shares what natural feature with Earth?

Astronomers have long known about the ice caps, which are visible through powerful telescopes. More recently, researchers have learned that there is water vapor in Mars' atmosphere (in trace amounts), and water ice is buried under Martian soil.


In addition to water, the ice caps also contain a substantial amount of ice from what substance?

It's not surprising, given that Mars' atmosphere is 96 percent carbon dioxide, this is also part of the planet's ice caps. Perchlorate is a large component of Martian soil, as noted in another question.


Mars' gravity is about __ percent as strong as that of Earth.

Technically, it's 38 percent that of its neighbor. This is a result of Mars' lower density. (Size, in terms of diameter, doesn't matter. Gravity, which is one of the four universal forces, corresponds to mass, not size.


In the 19th century, what observation sparked a belief in intelligent life on Mars?

Most of the hype arose from a mistranslation. An Italian astronomer noted the presence of "grooves" on the planet's surface, but the Italian word "canali" led English-speakers to believe these were deliberately-dug canals. Hence, a society advanced enough for engineering!


The Martian "canals" ultimately turned out to be what?

The "dust devil" answer isn't far off. The frequent Martian dust storms, plus atmospheric turbulence on Earth that affected telescope use, created the illusion of dark bands/roads/grooves on Mars' surface. No such feature has been found by Mars landers.


What was the name of the astronomer who discovered the "canals"?

Fun fact: Both the Giovannis are related to famous fashion designers. Cassini's descendant, Oleg Cassini, dressed first lady Jackie Kennedy. Meanwhile, Schiaparelli was related to Elsa Schiparelli, known for her colorful, boundary-pushing designs. Giovanni Schiaparelli was the namesake of a 2016 Mars probe launched by the European Space Agency.


Put these Mars missions in the correct order:

The Mariners did flybys and orbits, beginning in the late 1960s. The first U.S. lander was a Viking craft. Later came the Opportunity rover, and Curiosity is still operational, as of the writing of this quiz.


What is the name for the tallest mountain on Mars?

Mons Olympus is not only the tallest peak on Mars, it is the second-tallest mountain in the Solar System. Fun fact: the tallest mountain is not on any of the planets, but on the major asteroid Vesta, in the asteroid belt.


About how much taller than Everest is Olympus Mons?

Mars' Olympus Mons is 22 kilometers tall, or 72,000 feet. Mount Everest, in comparison, is 26,000 feet tall. It is a volcano, and a feature seen by astronomers, and recognized as a mountain, since the early 19th century.


In the late 1940s, Looney Tunes introduced a character called "____ the Martian." What was his first name?

Marvin originally had no name; he was just referred to as a spaceship commander. His uniform is a homage to the Roman god Mars: It's a Roman style helmet and one-piece garment with a skirt. Fetching!


Which one of these nations has not launched a successful Mars mission?

China's Yinghuo-1 did not achieve escape velocity, and Japan's Nozomi failed to reach Mars due to electrical problems in this system. Russia has had successful missions as part of the former Soviet Union, and once with the European Space Agency. India has sent up a functional Mars orbiter.


Mars exploration is a passion for which entrepreneur?

Elon Musk (in case you've been living under a rock) is a South African-born inventor and businessman. His SpaceX corporation has been a leader in rocketry, with a number of firsts to its name.


True or false: Like the moon, Mars has a number of impact craters on its surface.

Earth does not suffer from this problem because of its rich atmosphere, which both slows down meteors and causes them to burn up and disintegrate. Mars has a much thinner atmosphere, making it comparable to Earth's moon, which has none.


True or false: Martian missions, by the U.S. and other nations, have had a fairly high success rate.

Martian missions have had a relatively high failure rate, and this is true across the board. In addition to USA's NASA, countries that have sought to explore Mars via flyby, orbit or landing include Russia, China, Japan, India and the European Space Agency, all of wheich have lost craft or experienced failures to even launch.


Which was the first nation to attempt a Mars mission?

The Soviet Union got off to a strong start in what the United States came to call "the Space Race." This includes ambitious plans to go to Mars. However, it was NASA which first made a successful flyby of Mars, with the Mariner 4 craft.


In what year did NASA's Opportunity stop responding to signals?

The Opportunity rover exceeded everyone's expectations for it. Initially intended to function for 8,100 days on the surface of Mars, it operated for 459,990 days, more than 55 times the length of its planned mission. Kudos!


According to a late-1960s movie, "Mars Needs ..."

It might not be accurate to call 1967's "Mars Needs Women!" a cult classic, but it certainly has all the hallmarks: a low budget, silly dialogue, and (our favorite) a go-go dancer character named "Bubbles" Cash. Who could ask for anything more?


What is the "Face on Mars"?

This formation on a hill in the Cydonia region is widely considered to be a trick of light and shadow, as photos taken from different angles do not show anything like a face. Still, some people claimed it as evidence for an advanced civilization, who created it as a way to communicate with extra-Martian observers. (In other news: Early Etruscans deliberately shaped Italy like a boot, so that aliens would know that humans had legs.)


What color is the sky on Mars?

Of course, color is a function of light; even Earth's blue sky shifts from bright blue to pale blue to almost white in places. Likewise, Mars' sky has described as "tawny" or golden, and it can be pinkish when dust storms throw up a lot of iron-rich soil particles.


The largest dust storms on Mars can cover how much of the planet?

Compared to storms on Earth, whether of dust, sand or water, this is an amazing phenomenon. But astronomic observations have shown that all of Mars becomes darker and more reddish in color during these dust storms, meaning that they encompass virtually the entire planet.


Who created a Mars lander named the Beagle 2?

This craft was a joint project between the UK and the European Space Agency, which provides rocketry and launch services for member nations. The Beagle was named after Charles Darwin's ship. It was launched in 2003; unfortunately, contact was lost after landing.


War with Mars was the theme of which H.G. Wells story?

H.G. Wells was a writer who worked in a number of genres, but he's best known for his science fiction. "War of the Worlds," about a clash between Earth and Mars, has been made into a movie more than once. The 2005 adaptation, with Tom Cruise, scrapped the Martian angle, probably due to current knowledge about life on Mars (or, rather, the lack thereof).


Who discovered the moons of Mars?

Hall made this discovery in 1877, centuries after Galileo made note of the moons of Jupiter. Why such a long delay? Well, remember that Mars is the second-smallest planet, and its moons are even smaller. A powerful telescope was required, despite Mars' proximity to the Earth.


Elon Musk predicts that Mars tourism will be a thing by what year?

That sounds really optimistic to us, but who are we to contradict the man who launched a Tesla roadster into solar orbit? Musk estimates that a Mars tourism program will cost about $10 billion to develop. No word on how much a ticket will cost.


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