Life on Mars - Activities
EXPLORE! Life on Mars


Hands–on Science Activities

The Explore: Life on Mars? activities were developed for use in libraries and other out–of–classroom settings, 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. The Life on Mars? Extreme–O–File activity pages, scientist features, and trading cards were designed to support the activities, but the activities may be conducted independently of these resources.

The Extreme–O–File activity pages and trading cards are educational resources featuring information about real Astrobiologists and the life forms known as “extremophiles,” as well as an opportunity for children to record their experiences and continue the exploration of the activities at home. Select activities in this module feature printable supplemental pages that may be used during the hands–on activity. Over the course of the module, pages may be added to a standard file folder in order to create a complete “Extreme–O–File”. These pages were developed to be very versatile, allowing components to be selected and included as desired.

Activities Overview

Icebreaker Activity: Is it Alive?
This 15 minute activity can be used to open any of the Explore: Life on Mars? activities for ages 6 to 13, but is especially recommended as an introductory activity to this module. Children get to know each other through an icebreaker activity that introduces them to one another, fosters positive group energy, and brings out their ideas and previous experience with living versus non–living things as a preparation for later explorations into how scientists define and look for life in worlds beyond our own — like Mars!

Searching for Life
In this 45–60 minute indoor activity, children ages 8 to 13 discuss how life is defined and conduct a simple experiment, looking for signs of life in three different “soil” samples. The experiment introduces the children to the difficulty that scientists face in defining life.

Mars by the Book
In this 30–45 minute activity, children ages 8 to 13 investigate how Mars compares to the Earth, working together to create an Earth–Mars Comparison Poster to post in the library and share with their community. Their poster will feature basic facts about Mars and the Earth, as well as a scale model using balloons to represent the two planets.

Nurturing Life
During this 60–90 minute activity, children ages 8 to 13 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. Children consider the requirements of living things, compare the surface conditions on Mars to those found on Earth, and consider the similarities and differences in the type of life that would be possible on Mars as compared to their library garden on Earth.

Mars from Above
Mars from Above is a 60 minute set of activities in which children, ages 8 to 13, explore and compare the features of Mars and Earth, discuss what the features suggest about the history of Mars, and create a model to help them understand how scientists view and study other worlds – like Mars. The activities help to show why scientists are interested in exploring Mars for evidence of past life, and address the question: “Why are we searching for life on Mars?”

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. Their observations of the ways in which flowing water alters the surrounding terrain are used as clues to draw conclusions about Mars’ geologic past and its ability to support life, as well as how scientists view these features from space.

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. Children explore the basics of volcanos, how scientists view and identify these features from space, and reflect on what the presence of volcanos means about a planet's interior and potential to support life.

Protecting Life: The Martian Challenge
During this 60 minute activity, children ages 8 to 13, create their own ‘Martian’ using craft materials and UV beads. They will explore how UV radiation form the Sun can affect living things, comparing conditions on Earth and Mars, and then discussing ways that organisms may protect themselves from UV radiation. They will then take part in a Mars Creature Challenge, where they will change their creature to help it survive harsh UV conditions – like on Mars. This investigation will explore shelter and protection as one of life’s requirements, and how Earth’s atmosphere protects life from harmful UV radiation. 

Mars Engineering
In this 45–60 minute activity, children ages 8 to 13 work in teams to design and create their own models of a Mars rover out of readily available materials and craft supplies as part of a design challenge. They determine what tools would be necessary to help them better understand Mars, search for signs of life, and characterize its habitability. Each team incorporates these elements into their models, which must successfully complete a task.

Mars Imaginings: The Story
During this 45–60 minute activity, children ages 6 to 13 consider depictions of Mars from science fiction books and video clips. As a group, children discuss what they know about Mars and compare their ideas with the way Mars and imaginary Martians are presented in the science fiction works. They then use what they’ve learned to create their own Mars Science Fiction ‘Movie Trailer’ Zines.

Live Tonight: The Planets!
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.

Last updated
May 28, 2013


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