Education and
Public Engagement
at the Lunar and Planetary Institute
Explore! Life on Mars

Live Tonight: The Planets

Overview

This activity encourages children, ages 7 and up, and their families go outside on a clear evening to view the planets and other celestial bodies for themselves. Using sky charts and other resources, and possibly in partnership with a local astronomical society or club, children and their families view Mars with binoculars and/or telescopes. Depending on what works best for your library, this outdoor night viewing can be combined with highlights of past activities from the module, having the audience undertake some of the activities, and hosting a presentation by an astrobiologist or Mars scientist. The children who have participated in the other Explore:  Life on Mars? activities may serve as docents at this public, community event, sharing what they have done and learned about what life is, the requirements for life, and the possibility for life on Mars now — or in the past!

It is recommended that the viewing event be paired with the hands-on experiment within the Searching for Life activity if space and time allow. “Soil” samples and materials should be supplied, one for each child. Please follow the procedures/instructions located within the Searching for Life activity for testing the three soil samples. This activity may be set up as a station within the library.

What's the Point?

Materials

For each group of approximately 20 visitors:

For each child:

For the facilitator(s):

Preparation

Facilitator’s Note:  Because of Mars’ small size and great distance, many of its features are not recognizable from average telescopes on Earth. Visitors may be able to see ice caps on the north or south pole, but they will not see the detail that is available in the close-up photos from the recent NASA missions. 

Activity

1. Invite the children and their families to line up in front of the different telescopes.

2. Ask the children to describe what they see:

3. Discuss how telescopic views can be misleading:

Note:  If your event is featuring the children’s Mars Engineering projects, direct the viewers to visit the children’s work.

Facilitator’s Note:  Provide some information about NASA’s current robotic explorations: Mars is orbited by Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and is being studied by the Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, as well as the newest rover, Curiosity (with the Mars Science Laboratory onboard), which landed successfully and began exploring Mars in August 2012 .


4. Share that we have learned a lot about Mars by using telescopes and exploring it with missions. We now know that Mars has one of the most important ingredients for life—water!!  

  1. Ask the children whether they saw any evidence for frozen water on Mars. If they saw an ice cap, they saw a combination of frozen water and dry ice.
  2. If you are featuring the Mars from Above: Carving Channels activity, direct visitors to that area to learn more about past water on Mars.

In Conclusion

Thank the visitors for coming and invite them to explore any other activities that are being conducted or featured. Encourage them to check out the library resources to further explore life on Mars!