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

Life on Mars Overview of Activities

The Explore: Life on Mars? activities were developed for use in libraries and other out–of–school time settings for children ages 8-13, and focus on Earth and space science topics relating to the field of astrobiology—where scientists are searching for indications that Mars may be (or was) able to support life. Through hands-on investigations and discussions, children will build an understanding of five key messages relating to the search for life on Mars: 

  1. Living things have certain recognizable properties.
  2. Life as we know it requires liquid water, energy, nutrients, and shelter to Survive.
  3. Life exists in all sorts of environments on Earth, including extreme ones.
  4. Earth is the only planet known to offer liquid water, moderate temperatures, and protection from radiation due to its atmosphere and distance from the Sun.
  5. Mars is a good candidate for helping us to understand the likelihood of life beyond Earth by comparing its past and present environment with Earth's.

This module was designed particularly to engage girls in STEM.  The complete implementation guide is also available as a PDF.

Activities Overview

Icebreaker Activity: Is it Alive?: In this 15 minute introductory activity,  children share their ideas and previous experience with living versus non–living things as a preparation for upcoming activities.

Searching for Life: In this 45–60 minute activity, children discuss how life is defined and conduct a simple experiment, looking for signs of life in three different “soil” samples.

Mars by the Book: In this 30–45 minute activity, children investigate how Mars compares to the Earth, working together to create an Earth–Mars Comparison Poster with basic facts about Mars and the Earth and a balloon scale model of the two planets.

Nurturing Life: During this 60–90 minute activity, children explore what living things need to survive and thrive by creating and caring for a garden plot (outdoors where appropriate) or a container garden (indoors) at the library.

Mars Match: Mars Match, a 15 minute activity, engages children in an exploration of Mars' surface features by comparing and contrasting them with surface features on Earth.

Carving Channels: Carving Channels is a 15 minute activity in which children create channel features with flowing water, comparing their observations to real images of Mars and Earth taken by satellites/orbiters.

Viewing Volcanos: Viewing Volcanos is a 15 minute activity in which children create volcanos like those they have examined on Earth and Mars through images taken by spacecraft.

Protecting Life: The Martian Challenge: During this 60 minute activity, children create their own ‘Martian’ using craft materials and UV beads, then take part in a Mars Creature Challenge, where they will change their creature to help it survive harsh UV conditions – like on Mars.

Mars Engineering: In this 45–60 minute activity, children work in teams to create their own models of a Mars rover out of readily available materials and craft supplies as part of a design challenge.

Mars Imaginings: The Story: During this 45–60 minute activity, children consider depictions of Mars from science fiction books and video clips and create their own Mars Science Fiction ‘Movie Trailer’ Zines.

Live Tonight: The Planets!: This activity encourages childrenand their families go outside on a clear evening to view the planets and other celestial bodies for themselves.