Iron oxide gives the Red Planet its distinctive hue, but why is there so much iron on the surface? And how did it oxidize?
The simple explanation for the Red Planet's color is that its regolith, or surface material, contains lots of iron oxide — the same compound that gives blood and rust their hue. But why does Mars have so much iron, why is that iron "oxidized," and why does iron oxide look red?
It all started 4.5 billion years ago. When the solar system formed, many of the planets landed a dose of iron. Forged in the heart of long-dead stars, the heavy element swirled around in the cloud of gas and dust that gravitationally collapsed to form the sun and planets. Whereas the bulk of Earth's iron sank to its core when the planet was young and molten, NASA scientists think Mars' smaller size (and weaker gravity) allowed it to remain less differentiated. It does have an iron core, but abundant iron exists in its upper layers, also.