Mars (useful notes)

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    Dun-dun-dun-dun, dun, dun-dun-dun

    Ah, Mars. Its vivid red soil has entranced the imaginations of humans since it was first identified.

    In the late 19th century, astronomer Giovanni Schiapparelli observed what appeared to be water channels on Mars. When his writings were translated into English, the Italian word canali was mistranslated as canals. For decades afterwards, it was widely believed that these had been built by intelligent aliens. Predictably, Martians featured in a large amount of Science Fiction of the first half of the 20th century.

    However, when the Mariner 4 probe flew past Mars in 1965, it was conclusively shown that the canals didn't actually exist. When the Viking probes landed (the Soviets got there first with Mars 3, but the lander was taken out by a dust storm 14.5 seconds after landing), the planet was shown to be lifeless, and the concept of Martians quickly became discredited. More recent observations suggest that Mars may have supported life in the distant past, and some people still cling to hope that life may reside underground, no matter how unlikely it is. However, the red planet has had such a hold on human imagination for so long that it is not going to be lost as a setting any time soon.

    Mars regained its prominence in human imagination in 1976 when the Viking 1 probe reached the planet; equipped with more advanced technology, it was able to take a number of impressively high resolution photographs. One of these showed what appears to be a human face. Though quickly debunked by every legitimate authority, it has taken its place alongside the Nazca lines and the Pyramids of Giza in conspiracy lore - especially as one of the photographs from the mission has yet to be declassified. Fictional representations of Mars were changed as well; no longer a destination, but a stepping-stone to greater glories in the form of ancient ruins filled with Lost Technology, waiting for humanity to discover it and thereby leapfrog into the stars. One way or another, that particular argument will remain unsettled until people actually go there unregulated.

    More modern stories tend to have Mars being colonized, either as a plot point or part of the Back Story. This isn't an unlikely scenario in real life; it has more of the basic elements needed for life than any other non-Earth world in the solar system and its quite similar to Earth in several aspects, including day length (24h 39m 35.244s), temperature (-2 to -87 °C, chilly, but overlaps a fair amount with Earth), and an atmosphere (although Martian "air" is mostly carbon dioxide and averages about 1/100th of the Earth's pressure). It's also our neighbor along with Venus (which we have yet to keep a probe functioning on for more than a few minutes). For these reasons, Mars is the planet that is most frequently subject to Terraforming. Strangely, regardless of how otherwise Earth-like it may be, Mars tends to retain its distinct red soil.

    Because the Martian day is almost, but not quite, the same length as Earth's day, NASA scientists working on Mars missions reckon the local time there by "sols" (Martial solar days). There's no special name for the Martian year, however.

    Despite its many Earthlike qualities, Mars is nowhere near as big as the Earth. It's only half the Earth's diameter, and has only 38% of Earth's surface gravity. The total surface area of Mars is about equal to the land surface area of the Earth (i.e. that small portion of the Earth's surface that isn't under water). Nevertheless, Mars has a canyon (Mariner Canyon) that's far, far larger than Earth's Grand Canyon, and a volcano (Olympus Mons) that's far, far larger than Earth's Mount Everest.

    And as we all know from pop-psychology, men are from there.


    Mars has two moons, called Phobos and Deimos. Named after two figures from Greek mythology, they are both extremely small; Phobos, the larger of the two, is only ten miles across, and Deimos is half that. Their surface gravity, such as it is, can be measured in micro-g. They're really not much more than irregular rocks. Irregular rocks named Fear and Terror.

    Although these moons both orbit the planet in the same direction, Phobos is close by and orbits faster than Mars rotates, while Deimos is farther away and orbits slightly slower than Mars rotates. Phobos rises in the west, sets in the east, and rises again in the west 11 hours later. Deimos rises in the east, sets in the west 2.7 [Earth] days later, and rises in the East again 2.7 days after that.

    Examples of Mars (useful notes) include:




    • HG Wells' The War of the Worlds is one of the best-known examples of a Martian invasion of Earth.
    • The Sands of Mars, by Arthur C. Clarke, which interestingly is one of the more realistic stories to be set on Mars. Indeed, quite a few of Clarke's novels and short stories involve Mars in some way.
    • The Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who went on to write Tarzan.
      • The Mockbuster (which came out while the regular movie was in Development Hell) moved it to a "Mars" in another solar system.
      • Unusually for the time period, Edgar Rice Burroughs did take into account existing hypotheses on the livability of Mars, and turned it into a dying world supported by a technological atmosphere plant to keep the air breathable, and a polar ice extraction system to keep the canals filled.
    • Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis.
    • Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.
      • Unknown to many, Stranger is actually a prequel of sorts to RAH's excellent juvenile book called... wait for it.. Red Planet. Red Planet was written decades earlier but featured the same Martians seen in Stranger.
      • When it was finally discovered that Mars and other planets in our Solar System are lifeless, Heinlein points out his alternate universes have life on them and one of his characters expresses disappointment in our universe's Solar System.
        • The Animated Adaptation moved this to a planet "New Ares", which wasn't in our solar system but resembled pre-Mariner Mars.
    • Philip K. Dick's Martian Time-Slip (1964).
    • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) is more of a collection of short stories connected by an overarching continuity than a real novel. Human characters can breathe on the surface (albeit the air's thinner), communicate telepathically with the Martians, and use typewriters.
    • The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (1959). Except the Martians in this novel are actually human colonists.
    • In H. Beam Piper's Paratime stories, Mars was the original home world of humanity. Their world was dying, 75,000 years ago, so they attempted colonizing Earth -- with varying success on different timelines. The maximum probability was the cluster of timelines including what we laughingly call "reality": "...the colonists evidently met with some disaster and lost all memory of their extraterrestrial origin.... As far as they know, they are an indigenous race..."
      • Like many things fictional involving Mars, this is a case of Science Marches On: back when these stories were written, knowledge of human origins and evolution was still vague and fragmentary enough that the exogenesis theory wasn't completely implausible.
      • Piper's short story "Omnilingual" also involves apparently human Martians who died out millennia ago. An archeological expedition in 1996 is exploring the ruins of Martian civilization, and finds the mummified bodies of one of their last communities. "Their power was gone, and they were old and tired, and all around them their world was dying." So they quietly committed suicide.
    • Leigh Brackett's Planetary Romance stories featuring Eric John Stark, The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman, were set on a Burroughs-esque dying Mars suffering from Terran colonization, with a distinct Heroic Fantasy flavor and plenty of Weird Science. Another story, "The Sword of Rihannon," sent its protagonist back in time to ancient Mars, before its oceans dried up. After Mariner she set Stark's further adventures on extrasolar planet Skaith.
    • Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds.
    • Otis Adelbert Kline wrote a couple of Planetary Romance stories set on Mars, which has a Barsoom-type civilization full of swashbuckling and Schizo-Tech . He does imply that the humans who travel to Mars traveled through time as well as space, and that modern Mars is lifeless.

    Live-Action TV

    • The Ice Warriors in Doctor Who were originally from Mars, even after Martian life was discredited (they were originally from the distant past preserved as Alien Popsicles, and later from colonies in outer solar systems). The new series initially only mentioned Mars in passing, for the sake of a few jokes, before eventually setting an episode there.
    • My Favorite Martian (TV), which started a couple of years before the Mariner, and ended shortly afterwards. The 1999 movie obviously was well post-Mariner, but played with its blatant scientific inaccuracy in a funny opening sequence which shows scientists looking at the wrong part of the planet and missing, by about half a mile, a gigantic Martian city.
    • Disney's Mars and Beyond.


    • The second and third series of Journey Into Space involves a mission to, and the attempt to get back from, Mars.

    Western Animation


    Anime and Manga

    • In Cowboy Bebop, due to the fact that Earth has been devastated by numerous meteor strikes, Mars is the most important planet in the solar system.
    • Martian Successor Nadesico has human colonies on Mars. For about five minutes. Its backstory also features an ancient Martian civilization, from whose ruins the humans acquired most of the show's Applied Phlebotinum.
    • The manga Aria is set on Mars a hundred or so years after terraforming. Surprisingly, no one lives under domes and most of the planet seems to have been flooded due to melting the ice caps. Mars has been named Aqua, Earth is now called Manhome, and the story happens in the city of Neo-Venizia.
      • Another watery Mars can be seen in a game and anime Mars Daybreak, which, interestingly, is set in the same universe with the Gunparade March series.
    • Mars plays a major role in Gundam F90: the remnants of Neo-Zeon from Chars Counterattack retreated there, and thirty years later have built a giant railcannon for the purpose of destroying Earth.
      • The strange thing is that this is the only UC Gundam work it appears in. This may be due to the aborted Turn A Space series plan, which eventually became Turn a Gundam, which was meant to serve as a Distant Finale not only to all of Gundam, but Tomino's other Humongous Mecha anime as well. This would have included Daitarn3, in which Mars is the home of a race of evil cyborgs known as the Meganoids. Not exactly the friendliest place in the Solar System.
        • But then, no Gundam series really ever ventured away from the Earth Sphere. F90 and Crossbone series are a little known spinoffs, and any other series paid the Outer System only a mention at best. Even Zeta Gundam, which featured a Jovian, Paptimus Scirocco, still have him visit the Earth Sphere.
      • Mars gets a couple of mentions in Gundam Wing, as Relena makes terraformation her pet project after becoming Vice Foreign Minister near the end of the series. The sequel novel Frozen Teardrop gives Mars a much larger role: the planet is terraformed a couple of decades after the anime ended thanks to miraculous algae from Jupiter's moon Europa, leading Zechs Merquise to become the first President of the Martian Federation, and war clouds may be stirring between the red planet and Earth.
      • Finally, the Red Planet is the home of the series villains in Mobile Suit Gundam AGE. It was revealed that the Unknown Enemy are Martian colonists abandoned by the Earth Federation, and because of what it thinks to be betrayal, have initiated a revenge by attacking colonies in the Earth's orbit.
    • Whenever asked, Chao Lingshen of Mahou Sensei Negima would claim that she was from Mars. Thanks to events in chapter 257, this no longer seems so random with the confirmation of Mundus Magicus being located on Mars itself.
      • ...sort of. Mundus Magicus is essentially "out of phase" with Mars. It occupies the same area and the geographic features more or less line up, but it's not "really" Mars. Just layered on top of it.
    • The first several episodes of Ninja Senshi Tobikage are set on Mars, which has been made a prison colony.

    Comic Books

    • The Martian Manhunter in The DCU. Originally appeared pre-Mariner, retconned post-Mariner to have been pulled forward in time from a Martian civilization that was now long-dead.
    • ABC Warriors is mostly set on Mars. complete with Martians who resent human colonization. The titular robots spent a long time fighting on the side of Earth, but eventually ended that arc by forcing the president of Earth to become half-Martian. In the current stories, the primary inhabitants of Mars seem to be robots, though public restrooms have separate stalls for men, women, and Martians.


    • Most of Total Recall takes place there.
      • Very loosely based on the Philip K. Dick's short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.
    • Mars Attacks! is a rare modern film about a Martian invasion, being essentially an Homage to '50s sci-fi.
    • Mr. Nobody. In one of the possible realities, it's being gradually and realistically colonized by humans who travel there in cryosleep.
    • The year 2000 saw Dueling Movies Mission to Mars and Red Planet.
    • Ghosts of Mars.
    • Mars was the astronauts' planned destination in Capricorn One.
    • John Carter, being based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' decidedly pre-Mariner Barsoom series, had to explain why Mars had breatheable air and a living civilization. The (brief) answer was that we primitive, backward humans are ignorant of the real conditions on the planet. Either that, or the planet became an uninhabitable wasteland some time between Victorian England and the Mariner missions.


    • Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Blue Mars, and Green Mars) tells the story of the colonisation and terraforming of Mars over several generations.
    • Larry Niven's Known Space books and stories feature native Martians; to be fair, the first few stories were published just before the Mariner landings. They eventually get killed off by the Knight Templar Brennan, who has been mutated into a superintelligent being with inhuman motivations. However, The Ringworld Engineers has some surviving on the Ringworld's Map of Mars. Niven's Martians swim through sand and have alien biochemistry not based on water.
      • The lack of our discovering them is later justified by their living their entire lives underneath the sand (the details of the sand is of course another matter entirely). In-story, they weren't discovered until the 2100s, when a colony was mysteriously found dead from spear damage... on a planet thought uninhabited until then.
    • Spin has a Martian colony, which due to the book's premise becomes technologically advanced enough to develop interstellar travel (of a sort) and longevity treatments within the lifetime of the protagonists.
    • S.M. Stirling's The Lords of Creation reconstructs the pre-Mariner image of Mars, with scientists making discovery after discovery through the early part of the twentieth century that indicate both Mars and Venus are life-bearing worlds. The Viking lander (in 1962!) finds a classic decadent canal-based near-human civilization, and later Earth explorers/ambassadors discover that Precursors are responsible for terraforming Mars and Venus with ecologies transplanted from Earth.
    • Prior to the main story in The Pentagon War, Mars was colonized by the Western powers on its southern hemisphere and by China on its northern hemisphere. The two colonies quickly grew to each others' borders and had a war, which was quelched when the World Federal Government stepped in and subjugated both sides.
    • As part of Ben Bova's Grand Tour series, he wrote a novel whose entire title is just ... Mars. It's about the first manned mission to Mars, a joint international venture consisting of Astronauts straight out of a Jackie Collins novel.
    • Ian McDonald's Desolation Road and Ares Express are set on a far-future terraformed Mars. His treatment of Mars combines hard science and magic realism.
    • In Greg Bear's Moving Mars, scientists living in a Martian colony discover how to turn Bell's Discontinuity (a theory from quantum mechanics) into a long-range weapon of mass destruction.

    Live-Action TV

    • In Babylon 5, a colonized Mars is an important (and restive) member of the Earth Alliance. Michael Garibaldi is from there.
    • In Star Trek, Mars was colonized between the events of the movie First Contact and the series Enterprise. The Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards, where the the Enterprise-D was built, are in synchronous orbit above the Utopia Planitia region on the Martian surface.
    • There was an ABC miniseries of The Martian Chronicles that aired in 1980. It starred, among others, Rock Hudson, Darren Mc Gavin, Bernadette Peters, and Roddy Mc Dowall. Richard Matheson wrote the script, which was significantly different from Ray Bradbury's novel.

    Tabletop Games

    • In Warhammer 40,000, Mars is the homeworld of the Adeptus Mechanicus and the prison of the Void Dragon, at least during the Horus Heresy and prior.

    Video Games

    • Episode 1 of the first Commander Keen game was set on Mars.
    • The central conflict in Zone of the Enders is between The Federation and a rebel army on Mars. All except the first game take place on Mars.
    • Red Faction is another video game about a Martian colonial revolution.
    • Doom 3 and the original Doom take place on Mars and its moons respectively. Which, miraculously, all seem to have Earth-normal surface gravity as established by the rate at which your character falls when stepping off a high place. (Unless your Space Marine is really two centimeters tall.)
      • Justifiable in the original Doom, as Deimos is hovering over hell.
    • In Mass Effect, humans don't reach Mars until the 22nd century, and take another four decades to unlock its secrets - a base left by Ancient Astronauts filled with their technology. Immediately afterward they explode across the stars, becoming a galactic power just four decades after the discovery. The main characters don't visit it till the beginning of Mass Effect 3.
    • The third game in the UFO: After Blank series takes place entirely on Mars, as human colonists try to terraform it. Then they're attacked by the remnants of an old Martian Civilization. Then by alien invaders. Then more alien invaders. Then the Martians come back. And over the course of the game, the red planet slowly turns green.
    • The second and last game in the Ultima Worlds was titled Martian Dreams. Despite all the knowledge that we had about Mars at the time the game was created, the game is set on an extremely fictionalized version of the Red Planet. For one thing, you don't need a space suit to breathe. For another, you can get there in a ship that's launched like a bullet from the Earth. And finally, the resident plant life is desperately trying to kill you. However, the game is set in the late 19th century, with the common misconceptions of the time being true.

    Web Comics

    Web Original

    • Mars held an important position in the Orion's Arm universe from the nanoswarms through the first federation era, around one or two thousand years. It's still the most populated and influential planet in Solsys by the setting's present day, though the system itself is fairly inconsequential.
    • Played with in Genius: The Transgression, where the Martian Empire came into existence and began invading Earth the moment the Viking probe landed and found Mars uninhabited. That version of Mars is a Bardo, populated by Manes who insist on continuing to exist despite the fact that they shouldn't.

    Western Animation

    • Futurama also had native Martians, in an episode which parodied westerns.
    • The Filmation cartoon My Favorite Martians, circa 1970.
    • Invader Zim featured a lost Martian civilization who were wiped out because they put all their efforts into things like building the Face turning the planet into a ship.

    Zim: Why would you do that?
    Martian hologram: Because it was cool.

    • In the 80's animated series Star Com, Mars was long ago the home to a vanished advanced civilization, and archaeologists are diligently exploring any buried ruins they can find.

    Real Life

    • A Real Life example of getting Mars wrong: Former US Vice President Dan Quayle, who was not known for his intelligent remarks (in fact, he was basically known solely for his mangling of the English language), once famously declared, "Mars is essentially in the same orbit [as earth]....Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe."
    • Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, while touring JPL in 2005, asked if the Mars Pathfinder probe could see the flag planted by the Apollo 11 astronauts. On the Moon. (Perhaps she was asking about the probe's deep-space telescope capabilities.)
      • (Or if the far-side of the moon would be facing Mars at the time.)
    • The Mars 2112 restaurant in New York City.