Mars from Above: Mars Match
Adapted from Astrobiology: Science Learning Activities for Afterschool Educator Resource Guide. Walker, Education Department of the American Museum of Natural History; and Setting the Scene, Scratching the Surface unit of Explore! Mars: Inside and Out, Lunar and Planetary Institute, 2007.
Mars Match, a 15-minute activity for children ages 8–13, engages children in an exploration of Mars’ surface features by comparing and contrasting them with surface features on Earth. The children form teams of “planetary investigators” to examine images of volcanos, channels, and craters on Earth and Mars. The teams then use what they’ve learned to match the appropriate Mars feature cards to their Earth counterparts. The teams conclude by considering how scientists view these features from space, and what that may mean for our search for life beyond Earth.
What's the Point?
- Mars has many surface features similar to those on Earth, including volcanos, stream channels, and impact craters.
- There are differences in features on Mars and Earth. Mars has fewer volcanos than Earth, but they are much larger. Mars has many more visible craters than Earth. Mars does not have liquid water on its surface today, but features that look like stream channels on Earth suggest it had flowing water in the past.
- Surface features of planets look quite different from space than they when viewing them from the surface. It is important to understand how the images were taken in order to properly interpret them.
- Scientists must learn to identify these features from space using their observational skills since it is not always possible to send imagers to the surface.
- Use group work and collaboration to help engage children. Girls benefit from collaboration, especially when they can participate and communicate fairly. Girls are energized by the social part of science, working and learning together. This activity gives the children the opportunity to collaborate and work together in a fun and engaging social environment.
- Encourage critical thinking. Girls gain confidence and trust in their own reasoning when encouraged to think critically. This activity provides an opportunity for children to use imagery to think critically about what it is like on Mars (what we can observe) and what that can tell us about its past and potential to support life — now or in the past.
For each team of 3–4 children:
- 1 set of Mars Cards depicting Mar’s geologic features, printed on cardstock (cut)
- 1 set of full-page printouts of Earth Image Placemats depicting Earth’s geologic features, printed on cardstock if available
- optional: sheet protectors for the geologic feature placemats
For each child:
- 1 pencil/pen
- optional: 1 set of Extreme-O-File: Mars from Above activity pages
- optional: clipboard
For the facilitator:
- background information
- shopping list
- 1 flashlight
- 1 empty soup bowl
- 1 copy of the Mars Match image descriptions
- Review the activity procedures and corresponding resources.
- Prepare an area large enough for the children to be seated and working together in small teams. The children may be more comfortable working on the floor for this activity.
- Print enough sets of Mars Cards to accommodate the expected number of teams of 3–4 that undertake the activity at any one time.
- Print enough sets of Earth Image Placemat pages to accommodate the expected number of teams of 3–4 that undertake the activity at any one time.
- Review the images.
- Optional: Print one copy of the Mars from Above activity pages for each child.
1. Distribute a pencil to each child and the optional Extreme-O-File: Mars from Above activity pages (if needed), and invite them to become planetary investigators! The planets they will investigate are Mars and Earth. They will begin their investigation by making observations and asking questions, sorting the geologic features from Mars into groups, and sharing their observations with the whole group.
2. Team Up! Divide the children into teams of 3–4 children each. Give each team a set of Mars Cards. Explain to them how the images were taken so that they understand that they are looking down on these features from space — just like the orbiting spacecraft that took the images! Make sure to point out that some cards have a Sun-shaped symbol to indicate the direction of the sunlight. They should think about where they see shadows in relation to the direction of sunlight to help interpret the images.
(1) Flip the bowl upside down and place it on a surface. Invite the children to look at the bowl from the side. Does it look like a hill or mountain from this viewing angle?
(2) Next, invite the children to look at the bowl or hill from above. They are now looking at the bowl much the same way that the spacecraft looked at Mars when taking images.
How does the “hill” look to the children now? Is it different than viewing from the surface? Yes! Looking down on features, it is not easy to tell what is sticking up from the surface, like a hill/mountain, versus what is dipping in below the surface, like a crater/hole. By using the flashlight to simulate sunlight hitting the bowl (our geologic feature), we can observe where shadows occur. This can help us to determine the relief of the topography — whether it is sticking up or dipping below the surface. Notice for features sticking above the surface, like a hill/mountain, the shadow lies outside the feature, opposite the direction of the sunlight. For holes or depressions in a surface, the shadow will lie inside the feature, opposite the direction of sunlight.
3. Invite each team to examine their Mars Cards images and sort/organize them by the types of features they observe. They should try to create 3–5 groups.
- How many different features are there? How many different groups did they have?
- Ask them to describe their features.
- What are their shapes?
- Are they above ground level? Below?
- Can you tell how big they are?
- Ask them to describe their features.
- Do you recognize any of the features? What are they? Craters, volcanos, stream channels! If the children do not have a name for the different features, invite them to create a descriptive name (for example, craters might be called “circular holes”).
- Optional: Have the children complete the questions on their Extreme-O-File activity page.
4. Briefly discuss the observations and summarize the group findings.
- How many different types of features are there?
- For any one type of feature, how are the different examples the same? Different?
- Compare your features with a nearby team. Are there any similarities? Differences?
5. Challenge the teams to apply what they’ve learned by playing Mars Match. Give each team a set of Earth Image Placemats. Each team should work together to match each Mars Card to one Earth Image Placemat, placing the card in the shaded box on the placemat. They should continue until each card has been matched and placed onto a corresponding Earth feature. Once completed, the team should read about the Earth features and how they form, and discuss what that may mean for the matching Mars features. Note: Some of the Earth images also have a Sun icon indicating the direction from which the Sun is shining (as appropriate).
- What created the Earth features? How did they form?
- What could this mean for the Mars geologic features? How do you think that they formed?
6. Invite each team to compare and contrast the features they observed.
- Are there similar features on Earth and Mars? What are they?
- Are there different features?
- Can you name the features? Craters, volcanos, and stream channels! (Terminology can be reinforced in the remaining hands-on activities.)
Summarize that Mars and Earth have been shaped by similar processes, and that we can find volcanos, stream channels, and impact craters on both planets. Encourage the children to take part in the other Mars from Above activities (stations) to discover more about how these features formed, how we view them from space, and what that may mean for our search for life beyond Earth.