Jupiter is the king, Uranus is the comedian, Pluto is the underdog. But of all the planetary bodies in our solar system, Mars is clearly the biggest celebrity. Take a visual tour through our evolving fascination with the red planet and see how it has been venerated through the years as a powerful deity, a scientific curiosity, and a pop culture icon.
1570s “Mars and Venus United by Love”
A joining of opposites: Cupid uses a special love knot to bind the Roman god Mars to the goddess Venus in a painting by Paolo Veronese.
1898 The War of the Worlds
A witness recounts an epic battle between Martians and Earthlings in H.G. Wells’s now notorious thriller.
1906 Lowell’s Canals
As he drew on his maps (above) and described in a 1906 book, Percival Lowell believed Mars was a dying world covered in irrigation canals.
1918 A Trip to Mars
Like many early 20th-century depictions, this Danish silent film focused on Mars’s supposed inhabitants—in this case, benevolent vegetarians.
1939 “The Man From Mars”
Drawn by Frank R. Paul for Fantastic Adventures, this Martian is telepathic and can retract his eyes and nose to protect them from freezing.
1948 Project Mars
In 1948 German rocket engineer Wernher von Braun penned speculative fiction about a human mission to Mars. His work was translated into English and reprinted (sans fictional elements) as The Mars Project, a 1953 book with a stunningly prescient mission concept.
1951 Flight to Mars
In this sci-fi drama, scientists arrive on Mars to find a planet populated by a subterranean, dying race similar to humans—who may be plotting a desperate invasion of Earth.
1954 Full Color
Astronomer E.C. Slipher took this image from South Africa; he published his Photographic Story of Mars (1905- 1961) in 1962.
1965 Mariner 4
When this spacecraft flew by Mars, it snapped images of a planet that looked disappointingly like the moon: cratered and sterile, without any signs of alien life.
1967 Sagan’s Vision
For National Geographic, Carl Sagan imagined radiation-resistant Martians shielded by glassy shells, eating cabbage-like plants that fold up at night.
1976 Mars Vikings
NASA’s Viking mission included two orbiters and two landers, the first to take high-resolution images of Mars from its desolate surface.
1996 Mars Attacks!
Directed by Tim Burton, this film poked fun at 1950s science fiction movies. In it, murderous Martians terrorize Earth until they’re defeated by a country song.
2015 The Martian
In Andy Weir’s futuristic survival tale, astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is abandoned on Mars after crewmates mistake him for dead.
If SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has his way, a version of the retro-looking launch vehicle seen here being built in Texas will one day shuttle humans to the moon, Mars, and beyond.