Mars from Above
EXPLORE! Life on Mars

Mars from Above

Adapted from selected activities from  Astrobiology:  Science Learning Activities for Afterschool Educator Resource Guide, Education Department of the American Museum of Natural History; Mapping Mars, Destination: Mars, NASA Johnson Space Center, 2002 ; Lava Layering, an activity in Exploring the Moon:  a Teacher’s Guide with activities for Earth and Space Sciences, NASA Education Product EG-1997-10-116-HQ by J. Taylor and L. Martel , and  the Scratching the Surface unit of Explore! Mars:  Inside and Out, Lunar and Planetary Institute, 2007 .

Mars from Above is a 60-minute set of activities in which children, ages 8–13, 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. Teams of “planetary investigators” 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.

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. Using baking soda and vinegar, they model volcanic eruptions. The 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.

The children often work in teams in Mars from Above. The Mars Match, Carving Channels, and Viewing Volcanos activities can be presented in many different ways, depending on the resources available and program format. The activities can be undertaken one at a time, with small groups of children working together on the same activity. Alternatively the activities can be set up as stations, with small groups of children rotating from one station to the next every 15 minutes.

For stations, it is recommended that no more than 4–6 children occupy any one station at a time; there may be a need for replicate sets of stations. Each station should have a responsible adult facilitator/volunteer present to help guide the activity. Provide facilitators with the background information for the activity they will supervise ahead of time. Optional:  You may have the children complete the Extreme-O-File activity pages corresponding to these activities.

Stations Introduction
Welcome the children and explain that they will be learning about what it is like on the surface of Mars, how scientists are able to view and identify surface features from space, and what that may mean for the possibility of finding life on Mars. Introduce the children to the stations and explain how they will navigate them. Explain that they will have approximately 15 minutes at each of the stations and that you will signal them when it is time to switch. Explain how to rotate from one to the next. You may find it useful to use a sound-based cue or timer to help the children stay on time and rotate through the stations effectively. Each station should have a facilitator to help guide the children through the activity at that location. Invite the groups to visit their stations to investigate our modern scientific understanding of the martian environment. Optional:  Provide each child with the appropriate Extreme-O-File activity pages and have each group get started.

Stations (Activities) Conclusion
Bring the children back together into one group. Discuss what they discovered from their investigations at the stations.

Mars Match
What did they discover about the surface of Mars? How does it compare to Earth? Look at a few of the images and remind the children that Mars is dry today, and there are no forests or oceans. However, the martian surface shows that more is/has been going on in the past; there have been volcanism and flowing rivers. Summarize how these features formed, how we view them from space, and what that may mean for our search for life beyond Earth.

Carving Channels
Where do we find channels — Earth or Mars? Both! What does that tell us about Mars in the past? That there must have been flowing liquid water at the surface — one of the requirements for life! This means that Mars may have been able to support life in the past.

Viewing Volcanos
Have everyone consider the overall shape and appearance of the volcanos that they created at this station. Did they observe volcanos on Earth? Mars? Yes — both! Is there evidence of volcanos erupting on Earth today? Yes, they are actively erupting even as you speak! What about on Mars? No, there is no evidence of eruptions today. What does the presence of volcanos that were active in the past on Mars tell us about that planet? Mars was geologically active in the past — possibly supplying some of the requirements necessary for life (like gases for an atmosphere that would provide protection to living things).

Thank the children for taking part in the program and invite them to take home their creations and activity pages (as appropriate) to share what they have learned with their families at home.

Last updated
June 12, 2013


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