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What is Mars's Orbit?

Mars orbits the Sun at an average distance of 142 million miles, taking 687 Earth days to complete a single journey. This elliptical path causes variations in its distance from us, influencing visibility and mission planning. Curious about how this orbit affects Martian seasons and potential for life? Dive deeper to explore the Red Planet's unique celestial dance. What secrets does it hold?
Josie Myers
Josie Myers

Most people are familiar with Earth's orbital pattern, so it is easiest to discuss Mars's orbit as it relates to Earth's. Mars and Earth share many similarities in their orbits. They are both elliptical patterns and are held on a similar axial tilt. Mars's orbit has a more eccentric pattern than Earth, which introduces some differences in weather patterns between the two planets.

If viewed from above, both Earth and Mars appears to orbit the sun in a counterclockwise direction and are nearly on the same plane. An Astronomical Unit is a measurement of approximately 150 million km, or the distance from Earth to the Sun. Earth's orbit is therefore 1 Astronomical Unit (AU), while Mars averages 143 million miles (230 million km) or 1.5 AU. It takes Earth one year to orbit the sun, while a Mars orbit clocks in at about 687 Earth days or 1.88 times as long as an Earth year. A Mars day is slightly longer than an Earth day, averaging about 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds.

It takes Mars about 687 Earth days to orbit the sun.
It takes Mars about 687 Earth days to orbit the sun.

Eccentricity is used to define the shape of any planetary orbit. A perfect circle has an eccentricity of zero. Ellipses have an eccentricity between 0 and 1, while parabolas have an exact measurement of 1. Mars's orbit has an eccentricity of 0.09, which makes it the second most eccentric orbit of all the planets. Only Mercury has a greater one.

This eccentricity means that there is a big difference in distances from when it is closest to the Sun, or its perihelion, and when it is furthest away, the aphelion. The perihelion on the Mars orbit is approximately 1.38 AU or 129 million miles (207 million km.) The aphelion is about 1.66 AU or 155 million miles (249 million km.)

Because it orbits further away from the Sun, the average temperature on Mars is colder than that of Earth.
Because it orbits further away from the Sun, the average temperature on Mars is colder than that of Earth.

Mars's axial tilt is 25.19 degrees. Since this is very similar to the Earth's tilt of 23.45 degrees, Mars's seasons are very similar to those on Earth in that there are four. Each season lasts nearly twice as long as an Earth season since the Mars year is longer. They also tend to be much more extreme since the aphelion and perihelion are so drastically different. Summers are hotter since Mars's orbit comes closer to the sun, while winters are harsher in its furthers reaches.

Mars orbits between the Earth and Jupiter.
Mars orbits between the Earth and Jupiter.

It is presumed that many years ago, Mars's orbit was much less eccentric. It is estimated to have been closer to 0.002 about 1.35 million Earth years ago. The gravitational forces created by the other planets have been slowly pulling Mars into a greater elliptical pattern.

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Discussion Comments

Charred

@MrMoody - I don’t know if it would be the same kind of life that you’re thinking about. Summers and winters appear to be hotter and I think I read once that water can’t last long on the Mars surface because of its atmosphere.

I suppose if life did exist it would have to exist near the poles of the planet where they found the ice caps. I know they sent the Mars Rover to the plaent some years ago and it was able to survive the brutal temperature extremes but I don’t think the kind of life we’re used to might be able to do that.

MrMoody

I think the article's description of Mars's orbit shows some similarities with Earth. The length of its days are pretty close and both have four seasons.

The year on Mars is a little longer, but still, it's reasonable in my opinion. I think these similarities, among others, are what have led scientists to believe for many years that there could be life on Mars.

Of course other factors have been taken into account as well, like the fact that they found ice on the surface of Mars. This means that there may have been a lot of water there, which would be necessary for life to be teeming in abundance.

I don't buy into the little green men theory however. If there is life on Mars it’s probably microbial in nature, not the kind that walks on all fours.

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    • It takes Mars about 687 Earth days to orbit the sun.
      By: bramgino
      It takes Mars about 687 Earth days to orbit the sun.
    • Because it orbits further away from the Sun, the average temperature on Mars is colder than that of Earth.
      Because it orbits further away from the Sun, the average temperature on Mars is colder than that of Earth.
    • Mars orbits between the Earth and Jupiter.
      By: Daevid
      Mars orbits between the Earth and Jupiter.
    • Since the orbit of Mars takes it near the Asteroid Belt, it is theorized that its moons Phobos and Deimos are captured asteroids.
      Since the orbit of Mars takes it near the Asteroid Belt, it is theorized that its moons Phobos and Deimos are captured asteroids.