Mars from Above: Mars Match
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.
Tips for Engaging Girls in STEM:
- 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.
- 1 set of Mars Cards depicting Mar’s geologic features, printed on cardstock (cut)
Mars Cards (large file, 14 MB)
Mars Cards (small file, 2.8 MB)
- 1 set of full-page printouts of Earth Image Placemats depicting Earth’s geologic features, printed on cardstock if available
Earth Image Placemats (large file, 23 MB)
Earth Image Placemats (small file, 3 MB)
- Optional: sheet protectors for the geologic feature placemats
- Alternative for virtual Mars Matches game: use the powerpoint instead of the cards and placemats
- 1 pencil/pen
- optional: 1 set of Extreme-O-File: Mars from Above activity pages
- optional: clipboard
1. Invite the children to describe what they know about Mars. Does it have rocks and ground? Clouds? Rivers? Volcanoes?
2. Let the children know they are going to be comparing photos of the Earth and Mars. The photos will be taken by satellites high above the planets’ surface. They will be picking the image that matches an Earth feature (like a volcano) with a similar feature on Mars.
Virtual Mars Matches Game:
To share some of the same content with children in a virtual setting, use the powerpoint to play a game.
- For each slide, invite the children to select which of the images (A or B) for each set correctly. Moving to the next slide will show which answer is correct. In some cases, both A and B are correct, so everyone who responds is correct. Each correct answer earns a point.
- Either have the children keep track of their points, or stop periodically to determine who has the most points.
- To keep the game moving and exciting, give a short countdown for the children to decide their answer –for instance, countdown from 10 after you show a new set of images before you reveal the correct answer.
- The game will conclude either when a child or team or the group has a certain number of points, when a set amount of time is up, or when the slides are all completed.
After the game, move to Activity step 8: Invite the children to compare and contrast the features they observed.
3. 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.
4. 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.
Facilitator’s Note: If the children have difficulty understanding the perspective of the images, you can use the bowl and flashlight to help make sure that they understand the perspective from which the images were taken.
(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.
5. 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.
Facilitator’s Note: If the children have difficulty distinguishing between volcanos and craters in the images, ask them to observe where the shadows fall. Craters are circular depressions in the ground. If the sunlight is striking the crater at an angle in the image, the “bowl” will have a shadow “inside” the circular feature. Volcanos are mountains above the landscape, and they often cast shadows on the ground “outside” the circular feature. You can illustrate this by moving the beam of a flashlight across a bowl when it is placed right-side-up on a surface (crater) compared to turning the bowl upside down on the surface (volcano) and repeating the sweep of the flashlight beam. Have the children imagine that the flashlight beam is the sunlight and ask them to look for where the shadows occur for the crater (upright bowl) compared to where the shadows occur for the mountain (inverted bowl).
6. 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?
7. 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?
8. Invite the children 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.)
Facilitator’s Note: Mars has fewer volcanos than Earth, but they are much larger. Mars has many more craters than Earth. Mars does not have liquid water on its surface today, but features that look like stream channels on its surface, similar to those seen on Earth, suggest it had flowing water in the past.