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Exploring Mars
Grades: 4th, 5th, 8th
Program Duration: 30 Minutes
Program Type: Demonstration
Program Description
The students embark on a journey to explore the Red Planet. Students will view pictures taken by Martian rovers and
orbiters to discuss the evidence of past water on Mars. Students will also compare and contrast features on Mars with
similar features on Earth.
Louisiana GLEs and NGSS:
Grade 4
14. Identify questions that need to be explained through further inquiry (SI-E-B1)
15. Distinguish between what is known and what is unknown in scientific investigations (SI-E-B1)
17. Base explanations and logical inferences on scientific knowledge, observations, and scientific evidence (SI-E-B4)
22. Explain and give examples of how scientific discoveries have affected society (SI-E-B6)
56. Investigate the properties of soil (e.g., color, texture, capacity to retain water, ability to support plant growth) (ESS-E-A1)
63. Demonstrate and explain how Earth’s surface is changed as a result of slow and rapid processes (e.g., sand dunes,
canyons, volcanoes, earthquakes) (ESS-E-A5) (ESS-E-A1)
68. Identify the relationship between Earth’s tilt and revolution and the seasons (ESS-E-B4)
69. Explain how technology has improved our knowledge of the universe (e.g., Hubble telescope, space stations, lunar
exploration) (ESS-E-B6)
Grade 5
29. Explain how technology can expand the senses and contribute to the increase and/or modification of scientific
knowledge (SI-M-B3)
15. Identify the cell as the basic unit of living things (LS-M-A1)
21. Identify diseases caused by germs and how they can be transmitted from person to person (LS-M-A7)
32. Identify the processes that prevent or cause erosion (ESS-M-A7)
35. Identify the atmosphere as a mixture of gases, water vapor, and particulate matter (ESS-M-A11)
45. Identify Earth’s position in the solar system (ESS-M-C5)
46. Identify and explain the interaction of the processes of the water cycle (ESS-M-C6) (ESS-M-A10)
Space Systems: Stars and the Solar System
5-PS2-1. Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.
5-ESS1-1. Support an argument that the apparent brightness of the sun and stars is due to their relative distances from
Grade 8
29. Explain how technology can expand the senses and contribute to the increase and/or modification of scientific
knowledge (SI-M-B3)
5. Define gravity and describe the relationship among the force of gravity, the mass of objects, and the distance between
objects (PS-M-B2) (used to discuss missing atmosphere)
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Exploring Mars
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6. Predict how the gravitational attraction between two masses will increase or decrease when changes are made in the
masses or in the distance between the objects (PS-M-B2) (used to discuss missing atmosphere)
10. Illustrate the movement of convection currents (ESS-M-A2)
27. Identify different air masses, jet streams, global wind patterns, and other atmospheric phenomena and describe how they
relate to weather events, such as El Niño and La Niña (ESS-M-A12)
45. Explain how seasonal changes are caused by the tilt of Earth as it rotates on its axis and revolves around the Sun (ESSM-C7)
46. Illustrate and explain how the angle at which sunlight strikes Earth produces changes in the seasons and length of
daylight (ESS-M-C7)
48. Communicate ways that information from space exploration and technological research have advanced understanding
about Earth, the solar system, and the universe (ESS-M-C8)
Middle School
Space Systems
MS-ESSI-1. (Develop and) use a model of the Earth-Moon-Sun system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases,
eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons.
MS-ESS1-2. (Develop and) use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar
Key Terms:
Atmosphere – a layer of air/gas surrounding a celestial body
Gravity – the attraction between all objects
Hematite – a mineral ore known to form in the presence of water
Stromatolite – a growth structure on a rock thought to form from microorganisms binding sedimentary grains to the
rock’s surface
Connections to Permanent Exhibits:
These exhibits are found around the sun in the Space Center, 2nd floor.
Mercury: What spacecraft is on its way to Mercury right now? Name an interesting Mercurian fact.
Venus: Describe Venus’ rotation (spin) as it relates to its revolution (orbit). What did the Magellan spacecraft do?
Earth: What phase of the moon can you see in the sky today? Why did the Apollo astronauts have to have a
horizontal support for the American flag when they planted it on the moon? (Hint: See the photomontage outside
the second floor space bathrooms.)
Mars: What is the largest mountain in the solar system? How many moons does Mars have?
Jupiter: Can you see Jupiter in the sky tonight? Name an interesting fact about a Jovian moon.
Saturn: What spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004? What did it do?
Uranus: How old are you on Uranus? Describe the atmosphere of Uranus.
Neptune: What makes Neptune blue? The Earth’s axis tilts at 23.5 degrees. What is the Neptune’s axial tilt?
Plutoids: Name 3 characteristics that define a classical planet? Name 2 planet-like objects and where are they
found in our solar system? Are they plutoids or dwarf planets?
These exhibits are found in the Exploring Space Cluster near the Physical Sciences Gallery, 2nd floor.
Robot-Arms Control: Use the track ball and move across the arrow. When it turns green, click to move the arm
in that direction. Can you pick up a simulated rock?
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Martian Terrain: What features do you see on the Martian terrain? Is there any evidence there may once have
been water here?
Drive the Rover: Program the rover to make moves on the Martian terrain.
Control the Satellite: Help your friend maneuver the rover by making observations with the satellite camera.
Exploring Mars Mural: Who was the first person to use telescopes as astronomical tools? How long is a
Martian sol (day)?
Web Resources:
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The main page of NASA allows a user to look at a variety of topics of space-related sciences.
Solar System Exploration
This page provides overviews of the planets and links to the different missions associated with a given planet. Other
links provide classroom activities, web games, multimedia, and more.
The Themsis camera monitors the dust coverage on Mars. Mars’ “weather patterns” are actually dust storms that sweep
across the surface. Studying dust storms is crucial because the landers on Mars are solar powered. Here, one can check
out updated pictures from Themsis and see close up features of Mars from a bird’s eye view.
Mars Rovers
The Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are multimillion mobile laboratories exploring the Martian surface. They have
found evidence to support the past presence of water, and they will continue to probe the surface looking for possible
signs of life and viable sources of water.
Astro-Venture takes the user on journey into looking at the formation of a solar system. Picking out different
components of a solar system and building a planet will show students just how lucky Earth is to sustain water and life.
NASA Quest
NASA Quest offers a wide range of FREE online tools and resources for teachers, students, parents and others
including web and print lesson plans, educator guides and workbooks.
Mars Science Laboratory
All the latest information about the Curiosity Rover that landed on Mars in August, 2012.
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Pre-Visit Activities
Explore! Mars Inside Out-Next Stop Mars
This is a website sponsored by Lunar Planetary Institute through their education outreach. This lesson helps the
students visualize the characteristics of Mars and then has them compare Mars to Earth.
This lesson can be found at:
Post-Visit Activities
Comparing Martian Dust Storms to Earth's Cyclones
Background Information
In 1975, two Viking spacecraft landed on Mars and returned with samples of soil--red Martian soil. The Mariner flybys
led the way to our early investigations of Mars, which will continue in the future.
Mariner 9 was launched on May 30, 1971 and took 5 1/2 months to reach Mars. Previous Mariner flights had
photographed Mars from as close as 6,000 miles. When Mariner 9 arrived at its destination on November 13, 1971, Mars
was experiencing a terrible dust storm that postponed any photography of the planet for weeks. When Mariner 9 was
finally able to photograph the red planet, it took a total of 7,000 photographs. These photos revealed exciting new
information--that rivers and perhaps seas once existed on Mars.
The Viking project, which followed the Mariner projects, successfully landed spacecraft on Mars, another milestone for
the U.S. space program.
During a dust storm such as the one witnessed on Mars, winds may speed at hurricane-like force. Although Martian air
has 0.001 as much water as Earth's air, it can condense and form clouds and fog. In its past, the, Martian atmosphere may
have been denser and water may have flowed on the planet.
Ask students to think and compare a Martian dust storm to a storm on planet Earth. On November 13, 1970, a terrible
cyclone swept through Bangladesh, creating massive tidal waves and high winds.
Cyclones are storms of wind that encircle a center of low atmospheric pressure. If they occur north of our equator, they
move in a counter-clockwise direction. If they are south, they move in a clockwise direction.
In the Southern Hemisphere where there is less land and continental resistance, cyclones can be much stronger and more
damaging. Although Bangladesh is in the Northern Hemisphere, the cyclone formed in the Southern Hemisphere and
caused more than 300,000 deaths. (In May of 1991, Bangladesh again suffered a devastating cyclone.)
The following activity will help your students understand the principles of air pressure. They can also read about storms
and atmospheric pressure both on Earth and on Mars. The atmosphere on Mars is similar to the atmosphere on Venus,
consisting mostly of carbon dioxide, with some oxygen, nitrogen, and argon.
What features do a Martian dust storm, as witnessed by Mariner 9, and a violent cyclone have in common? Read and find
out about both of these storms. How fast can the wind blow? What is "atmospheric pressure" and how can it affect the
What is a cyclone? In what direction does the wind move--clockwise, counterclockwise, or both? What forms of
precipitation do cyclones bring? Where are cyclones generally found geographically in relation to the equator? You will
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find that there are variations in cyclones depending on their movement and location.
Here is an investigation that will help you understand some principles about air pressure. After completing the
investigation, write a Mini Report about violent storms such as the dust and cyclone storm, based upon your readings and
other sources.
Students will learn about Earth's cyclones and Martian dust storms.
Students will compare and contrast these types of storms.
Students will learn some principles about air pressure.
Drinking Glass
Thick cardboard squares
Fill the glass with water.
Carefully center the cardboard square over the top of the glass of water.
Leaning over the sink, slowly turn the glass upside down, keeping the cardboard in place.
Carefully remove your hand.
Start a class discussion by asking the following questions:
o What happens to the cardboard?
o Why?
6. Now remove the cardboard and slowly pour the water down the drain. Watch the direction (clockwise or counterclockwise)
of the water. Is this like the direction of the winds of a cyclone above or below the equator?
Excerpted from Science Teachers Almanac by Julia Spencer Moutran.
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