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Discover Mars

What is the Time on Mars? Is There Water on Mars? Was there ever Life on Mars? What does Mars Look Like? The sites below can help you and your students discover the answers to those questions and more. Included: More than two-dozen online resources for teaching and learning about Mars.

On January 3, 2004, at 8:35 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, Mars Exploration Rover Spirit landed on the surface of Mars. The spacecraft, which was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 10, 2003, traveled 487 million kilometers -- 302.6 million miles -- on its journey. Spirit's twin, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, launched on July 7, 2003, is scheduled to land on the opposite side of Mars on January 24, 2004 at 9:05 Pacific Standard Time.

Each golf-cart-sized spacecraft carries five scientific instruments and an abrasion tool -- a panoramic camera, a miniature thermal emission spectrometer, a Mssbauer spectrometer, an alpha-particle x-ray spectrometer, a microscopic imager, and a rock abrasion tool, or "RAT" -- that will be used to explore the environment of the Red Planet and to analyze whether life might have existed there.

"Think of Spirit and Opportunity as robotic field geologists," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "They look around with a stereo, color camera and with an infrared instrument that can classify rock types from a distance. They go to the rocks that seem most interesting. When they get to one, they reach out with a robotic arm that has a handful of tools, a microscope, two instruments for identifying what the rock is made of, and a grinder for getting to a fresh, unweathered surface inside the rock."

What can your students learn from those "robotic field geologists"? The possibilities -- whatever grade level you teach -- are astronomical. The Web sites below represent just a sampling of the excellent educational resources available to you and your students.


  • The NASA Home Page
    Explore this link to NASA's fun games and activities for kids, learning resources and information for students, and teaching and education resources for educators. You'll also find an animated video tour of the Red Planet.
  • Windows to the Universe
    The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research maintains this site containing a huge number of documents, images, movies, animations, and data sets, related to Earth and Space sciences and to the "historical and cultural ties between science, exploration, and the human experience." Kids' pages, provided at elementary, middle school, and high school reading levels, include information about the geology, atmosphere, facts and myths, news, and more about the sun, the comets, the asteroids, and each planet. Kids can play space related games, send a space postcard, ask questions of a space scientist, or submit their own space related art and projects to the online galleries. Teacher resources include a lesson plans in such categories as the Solar System; Atmosphere and Weather; Geology, Oceans and Life; Sun and Spaceweather; and Physics and Chemistry. A number of classroom units created by NASA also are available. Many of the resources at this site also are available in Spanish.
  • The Nine Planets
    Discover an overview of the history, mythology, and current scientific knowledge of each planet and moon in our solar system. Each page contains text and images; some have sounds and movies as well. Most provide references to additional related information.


  • The Planet Mars: A History of Observation and Discovery
    The University of Arizona Press publishes this online chronological history of Mars' observation and exploration from the late19th through the late 20th century.
  • Mars Exploration Program
    NASA offers games and activities for kids, downloadable templates for building Mars spacecrafts for students, and classroom and professional development resources for students. The site also includes extensive in information about the mission, the spacecraft, the mission team and timeline, as well as images and videos from Mars Exploration Rover.
    NASA TV provides real time coverage of Agency events and activities, as well as news video, and educational programming.
  • Science@NASA
    This online easy-to-read newsletter provides the latest information about scientific research and events at NASA. The newsletter also includes such regular features as Science Weather (notice of meteor showers, sunspot activity, and potential aurora events), Sounds of Earth (the sounds the Earth makes in the radio spectrum), and Radio Meteors (the sounds of meteors streaking into Earth's atmosphere).


  • Athena
    Cornell University offers a number of resources related to Mars exploration, including 11 lesson plans, seven Home Demo experiments, information about the Martian Sundial and directions for making sundials, additional online resources for teachers and students, facts about Mars, information and pictures from the current Mars exploration, and much more.
  • Life on Mars
    This Education World Teacher submitted lesson plan for grades 3-8 takes a look at the question: "Could there be life on Mars?"
  • EconEdLink
    In this economics WebQuest, students work in groups to participate in a race to Mars.
  • Illuminations
    In this mathematics lesson, students improve their concept of time and distance and their understanding of the solar system as they consider the amount of time space travelers might spend on such a journey and what events might occur on Earth while the travelers are on that journey.
  • Journey to Mars
    The Exploratorium page provides information about Mars exploration, Webcasts about Mars, classroom activities and experiments, and the opportunity to send e-cards of Mars. Each lesson, which include Martian Microbes?, Exploring the Martian Environment, and Instruments Aboard the Mars Exploration Rover, provide a central hands-on activity, as well as related information and activities.
  • Thursday's Classroom
    Add an educational component to NASA research and events through these related lessons, activities, and printable materials.
  • Mars Landing
    In this activity, part of NASA Classroom of the Future's Exploring the Environment series, students "aboard" the first manned spacecraft to Mars must find a safe landing site. To do that, they first must practice their image processing techniques to analyze some old, low-resolution images of the planet's surface. The site includes Teacher Pages that require free registration.
  • Imagine Mars
    In this online project, students explore their own community and decide which arts, scientific and cultural elements will be important on Mars. They then develop their ideal community, from an inter-disciplinary perspective of arts, sciences and technology.
  • Also see Windows to the Universe in the General Space Information section.
  • Also see Mars Exploration Program in the Mars News and Information section.


  • The Space Place
    NASA's site for elementary school children, provides such activities as Make Spacey Things, including an Asteroid Potato and a Galactic Mobile; Do Spacey Things, including crossword puzzles, word searches, and matching games; Space Science in Action, which contains interactive demonstrations and hands-on science experiments; Dr. Marc's Amazing Facts about space science and technology; and Our Friends Share, poems, pictures, and news submitted by visitors to the site.
  • Is There Water on Mars?. This educator's guide from NASA contains six activities for teaching physical, earth, and space science to high school students. Spacelink also provides a number of other Educational Products, including educational briefs, programs, lithographs, slide shows, videotapes, and directions and templates for hands-on classroom activities.
  • Interactive Media
    The John F. Kennedy Space Center Space Port Services allow students to complete simulations of launching and landing a Space Shuttle, docking with the International Space Station, and taking a virtual tour of Kennedy Space Center.
  • Exploring Mars
    At this Planetary Association page, kids can read the latest Mars Exploration Rover news, build an EarthDial, crack a secret code, read Astrobot diaries, write President Bush, drive a Lego Rover, and much, much more.
  • MarsQuest Online
    Here, kids can take a virtual tour of the Red Planet, launch a spacecraft, explore the planet's canyons and volcanoes, and solve the mystery of whether life can exist on Mars.
  • Field Trip to Mars
    On this Kids' Cosmos field trip, kids compare the geology of Mars (including its floodplains and waterfalls, volcanoes, lakes and lakebeds, coulees and caverns, earthquakes, sand dunes, and dust devils) to that of the state of Washington. How does it compare to your state?
  • Mars Project
    The year is 2058; scientists estimate that more than 2000 people from Earth are arriving on Mars each week. The migration has caused a debate between those who want to turn Mars into a life sustaining planet and those who want to leave Mars as it was. Take a virtual tour of Mars to decide for yourself which option you prefer.
  • Explore Mars Now
    Kids take an animated interactive tour of the Mars Rover, view a picture of a Mars habitat, and learn more about the current mission to Mars.
  • Also see the NASA Home Page and Windows to the Universe in the General Space Information section.
  • Also see Athena, Thursday's Classroom, and Journey to Mars in the Lesson Plans and Projects section.
  • Also see Mars Exploration Program in the Mars News and Information section.


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2004 Education World