Mars and history of its observations

The Greek god of war is named after Ares, who is the son of Zeus and Hera. God of fierce fighting and endless killing. The striking red color of the planet was already identified with blood in ancient times, hence its name. Ares is usually depicted with his two sons, Phobos and Deimos. The moons of Mars were named after these two boys. In the Trojan War, he was on the side of the defending army, but even a mortal ran him over with his spear. He also fell short of Heracles. He did not marry, but he fell in love with Aphrodite, who bore him Eros. He also had a child from mortals. The Amazons, these warrior women, also derived themselves from him. It has been immortalized in many ancient and modern works of art.

When Mars is close to Earth, its reddish point shines more prominently than any other star. It was not by chance that the ancient peoples believed that they saw the god of bloody battles moving in the sky.

The i. e. III. millennium BC, the Sumerians referred to the red planet speeding through the sky as a “wandering star”, and because they saw its color as an ominous omen, they said that the celestial phenomenon was the embodiment of the evil Nergal, the god of death and wars.

In Egypt, it was the star of the god Ra, the “Horus of the Horizon”, later called the Red Horus. By this time he was known to occasionally “travel back”. In the pictures, he was depicted as a hawk-headed man.

The 8-12. In 19th century India, in Hindu mythology, Mars was Mangala, or Karttikeya, the war god: according to the story, Karttikeya was born from six sparks that fell from the eyes of the god Shiva into a lake near Madras. The six children born were raised by the Pleiades.

The soothsayers predicted the death of rulers, times of abundance and scarcity, and the outcome of decisive battles based on Mars’ celestial orbit and light changes.

The color of Mars also appeared to the aborigines of Australia. They thought it was on fire, or maybe it had something to do with the Red-tailed Mourning Cockatoo.

The Mayans meticulously watched where it stood concerning the stars and tied its movement to the changing seasons.

The ancient Greeks associated him with Ares, the god of war, and the ancient Romans already called the god of war by that name in their myths: Mars. The old Hungarian folk name of Mars: is “blood-eyed star”.


The Greeks were also at the forefront of exploring Mars in the 1st century BC. Around 300 AD, Aristotle determined that Mars was farther from Earth than the Moon. A simple natural phenomenon drew his attention to this: the Moon covered Mars.

The movement of Mars was already described by Hipparchus (160-125 BC). The learned astrologers of the ancient peoples followed it with great attention since its current position carried important “information” in warfare.


For the special movement of Mars in B.C. Around 250, Aristarchus gave the first correct explanation because in his theory our Earth had already become a simple planet. In his heliocentric model of the world, Mars orbited outside the Earth’s orbit, so the Earth sometimes circled it – easily explaining the loops in its orbit.


Around 130 AD, Ptolemy laid the foundations of his ideas about the universe; in his system, the hierarchy of celestial bodies was as follows: Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, and Mars.

Tycho Brahe

At the end of the 16th century, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe managed to map the orbit of Mars more precisely than ever before. Brache did not yet have a telescope at his disposal: he was forced to be content with his mechanical devices for determining the positions of the planets – well, his sharp eyes. Despite the rudimentary technical conditions, he managed to describe the movements of the planets, including Mars, with an accuracy of four minutes.

Johannes Kepler

Brahe’s assistant, a German astronomer named Johannes Kepler, established the first two laws of planetary motion based mostly on observations of Mars:

The planets move in elliptical orbits, one of the foci of the ellipse is the Sun.
The planets travel the same orbit in a unit of time.

Kepler’s discoveries rest largely on Brache’s meticulous observations of the motion of Mars. Later research in the history of science also revealed that Kepler would hardly have been able to discover the regularities if he had chosen to observe another planet instead of Mars. The orbit of Mars was simply an ideal example for the German astronomer since the planet orbits in an elliptical orbit that is much more elongated than usual.

With Kepler, the movement of Mars could be accurately calculated, but apart from that, they knew nothing about the red-glowing celestial body. However, the thinkers of the time did not stop there.

Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) believed that there were many inhabited planets in the infinite universe besides Earth. He finally ended his life by being burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1600 for his theological principles.

Galileo Galilei

An even more precise observation of Mars was made possible by the great invention of the beginning of the 17th century, the telescope. Galileo, a professor at the University of Padua, was the first to examine the red planet through a telescope. In a letter dated December 30, 1610, he reports on his results as follows: “I would not dare to say that I have observed all the phases of Mars. But if I am not mistaken, I find that the planet is not quite spherical.”

Mars by Francesco Fontana

The first known depiction of Mars was put on paper by an amateur astronomer, Francisco Fontana from Naples, in 1636. According to his observation, “the disk of Mars is not everywhere the same color”, which he was undoubtedly right about. Not so much in that a “black dot” can be seen on the surface of Mars – Father Fontana was unfortunately disturbed by the contamination of his telescope.

Mars by Christian Huygens

Christiaan Huygens, the Dutch naturalist, discovers – and on October 30, 1659, draws – the surface formation known today as Syrtis Major (called the Sandstone Sea in Hungarian). According to Huygens’ description, the formation most closely resembles “a large swamp”. In the same year, Huygens estimated the size of Mars and the length of the Martian day: according to him, the planet is approx. It accounts for 60%, and a Martian day lasts 24 hours. The striking results are due to the development of technology, as his Dutch telescope was much sharper than its predecessors – it could even magnify fifty times!

Mars by Cassini

Huygens’ measurement was corrected by Gian Domenico Cassini in 1666, according to whose measurement the Martian day lasts 24 hours and 40 minutes. The Italian scientist made about 20 sketches of the planet in his observatory in Bologna, based on which he concluded: on Mars the next day, but approx. 40 minutes later, they can be seen in the same place, the same formations.

Cassini was also the first to measure the distance between the Earth and Mars, with the help of the results of his colleague Jean Richer, who was sent to French Guiana. Researching in South America, Richer also tried to determine the position of Mars in the night sky. By comparing the results, Cassini was able to calculate the parallax (deflection of the visual angle) of Mars, thus determining the distance between Mars and Earth at the time of the measurement.

Cassini is also credited with the first relatively accurate description of the dimensions of the Solar System. The Italian estimated the Sun-Earth distance – the “astronomical unit” – at 140 million kilometers. (According to today’s modern measuring devices, the same distance is 149.6 million kilometers.)

Mars by Herschel

The tilt of the axis of Mars was first calculated by William Herschel, an English astronomer of German origin. The scientist who holds the title of “British Astronomer Royal” was established based on tests carried out in 1781 on the telescope that he built: the tilt of the axis of Mars is approximately 24 degrees. (He was hardly wrong: according to the measurements made with the most modern instruments, the axial tilt of Mars is 25.19 degrees!) Herschel based his findings on the rotation of the planet’s surface formations. However, he was wrong about the planet’s “dark spots” being oceans.

Cassini was the first to notice in 1666 that the corners of Mars were covered by a lighter cap. The cap of the South Pole was already included in the Dutch Huygens’ drawing six years later. However, it was the German-English Herschel who in 1781 was the first to identify the white formations with absolute certainty as ice caps.

“Inhabitants of Mars”

In 1784, Herschel prepared a report on his lovely planet for the English Academy of Sciences (Royal Society). The study reads:

“The planet appears to have a considerable atmosphere, as, in addition to the constant patches of surface, I have often observed occasional changes of partly bright bands and one of a darker band. These changes can hardly be attributed to anything other than the variable tendency of clouds and vapors floating in the planet’s atmosphere. Mars has a substantial but rarefied atmosphere, and as a result its inhabitants presumably enjoy conditions similar to ours in many respects… Mars is perhaps the most Earth-like planet in the entire solar system.”

An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, Johann Hieronymus Schroeter, made drawings of the surface of Mars in 1800. Schroeter was in constant contact with Herschel, and he made his telescope based on the telescope of the German-English astronomer.

Honoré Flaugergues, Schroeter’s French art-loving colleague, made several important discoveries between 1809 and 1813 in his private observatory in Viviers, southern France. At first, he thought he only discovered “yellow clouds” in the planet’s atmosphere, which others and only much later found out: they could be dust clouds.

His later observations included observing the rapid melting of the polar ice caps.
According to Flaugergues, the limits of the caps change and the ice sheets visibly shrink during the Martian spring. He concluded that the caps are composed of thin layers of ice and snow, and their rapid melting is evidence that Mars is warmer than Earth.

Current Mars missions by NASA:


Source of original article.

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Tiffany Kai

Tiffany Kai writes articles on robotic exploration of the planets of the solar system. She is a robotic assistant of Dr. Jozef Kozár.

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