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Use NASA data about the surface of Mars to choose a landing site for a rover, and design technologies to learn about the surface of a moon from far away!

Grade Level
Grade 6-8
A Mars rover on the surface of Mars
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Remote Sensing Investigation

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Remote Sensing Investigation – Letter to Families
Letter to Families
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Remote_Sensing_Investigation_Guide
Remote Sensing Investigation Guide
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Remote_Sensing_Investigation_Data_Packet
Remote Sensing Investigation Data Packet
pdf 3.18 MB
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Remote Sensing FAQs

How much do I need to know about planetary science and remote sensing technology in order to teach this unit?

Everything you need to know is outlined in the Educator Guides and Educator Resources on our website.

How long does this unit take? How much preparation is involved?

Each activity is approximately 55 minutes. There are 12 activities in the entire unit, so budget about 12 hours of instructional time. Please account 1 to 2 hours to familiarize yourself with each Educator Guide. If you are gathering your materials, plan a trip to a craft or general merchandise big box store. A quick reference for prep timing and activity timing is included in our Back Pocket Activity Essentials: Science and Engineering.

Do I need an assistant to run this unit? Is there special equipment needed?

An assistant would certainly be useful to assist large groups of youth in these activities, but if adequate preparation and clean up time is available, it is entirely possible to lead these activities solo. Aside from the consumable materials listed in the Educator Guide, you will need access to a color printer, access to the Internet, and ideally a large device to watch the video in the Engineering Everywhere Prep Activity 2 and any other useful visuals you find useful and instructive.

What can be cut out if time is short?

The science and engineering pathways build on each other’s concepts but can stand alone. It is not necessary to complete one in order to teach the other, or to teach the pathways in a particular order. If youth are very familiar with technology and engineering, then the Engineering Everywhere (EE) Prep Activities 1 and 2 can be cut, with the exception of the Engineering Everywhere Special Report Video. If youth are inexperienced with the Engineering Design Process, we recommend that you include the Prep Activities. Please allow ample time for creativity in building the devices in EE Activities 4 and 5, and allow ample time at the end of each activity for reflection. If you decide to do the Science Series, you should aim to complete all four activities.

How many youth should be in each group?

The materials list in the Engineering Everywhere (EE) Educator Guide is designed for 8 groups of 3 youth. Make sure that your groups aren't so large that there aren't enough tasks to go around. Also, assigning roles like the note taker, the materials gatherer, the tester, and the presenter will help everyone stay involved.

How much will the materials cost? Do I have to use the exact materials listed?

You can purchase a complete materials kit online from the Museum of Science EiE Store for $649. If this is out of your price range, you can purchase the materials individually at any general merchandise big box store. You can also crowd-source your materials. A letter to parents for materials donation is included in the Engineering Guide on page xxiii. A complete materials list is included on page vi of the Educator Guide. Feel free to use your creativity to substitute materials if that works better for you, but make sure you test them out first to make sure they will work.

Where can I find a glossary of terms and acronyms used in this unit?

There is a glossary of terms included in both the Engineering Educator Guide (p. xvi) and the Science Educator Guide (p. 16). These and additional terms are also available in the Remote Sensing Vocabulary.

What are some everyday examples of remote sensing?

We use remote sensing in our daily lives too; it is not just for studying planets. Have you ever used a GPS or Google Maps on your phone to navigate to a new location? Satellites remotely sense your location and movement to tell you when to turn! Even motion sensors that open automatic doors for you at the grocery store or turn on food conveyor belts in the checkout line use remotely sensing technology to make your trip a bit easier.

Is there a quick reference that explains all the acronyms used?

Check out the terms glossary on Remote Sensing Vocabulary.

Is there an easier way to communicate the significance of landforms to youth?

Consider writing on a board which landforms form due to water (delta, river valley, canyons, layered rocks), wind (yardangs, sand dunes), meteor impact (craters), and volcanism (lava flows).

How far can a rover travel?

The Mars Curiosity Rover can travel up to 200 meters or 660 feet per day.

How can I introduce topographic maps to youth prior to the activity?

If youth have never been introduced to the concept of a topographic map, you may want to spend a minute doing a quick demonstration or activity. The Mystery Moonscape from the Engineering Activity 4 (A4) can be deconstructed to trace and make hand-drawn topographic maps. The pages of a thick paperback book can be manipulated to show a steep or shallow slope where every page edge is a contour line. If you have the time, corrugated cardboard, craft felt, or craft foam can be cut into different consecutively smaller shapes and stacked to simulate a topographic map.

What are some resources I can use to explain spectroscopy to youth?

Check out our videos on spectroscopy in Educator Resources (Using Light to Find Out What Things Are Made Of and How We Use Spectroscopy to Learn about Other Planets). If you have access to one, bring in a prism and use different light sources to see which kind of light has the most colors.

Is there a correct answer?

No, every answer is correct as long as it’s justified with data. Although the series may lead youth to choose Jezero Crater, it’s entirely possible to have a justifiable reason for choosing a different landing site. What matters is that youth justify their selection with an evidence-based argument.

As the educator, should I have made a successful tower prior to leading this activity?

It is not totally necessary to have a successful tower made. However, making one in advance can help you identify sticking points for youth ahead of time. It also may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the strategies of folding or rolling cards, in case youth need a little more instruction.

What is the difference between criteria and constraints? What are some relatable examples?

When engineering a device, the criteria are the requirements for solving the problem. The constraints are factors that limit how you can solve the problem. For example, say you need a funnel to pour flour into a small jar. You don't have a funnel (the problem). You need to design something to get the flour into the small opening without spilling it (the criteria). All you have is paper and a roll of clear tape (the constraints). One solution might be to roll the paper into a cone with a small opening and tape it so that it doesn't unroll (the engineered device).

How can I get youth to think about improvements to already new technologies?

Try suggesting new constraints to inspire creativity. What would you want to change about this technology? For example, could it be smaller, lighter, cheaper, last longer, more durable? What are some improvements you can make to achieve this? For instance, most people would love for their cell phone battery to last longer. That could be an improvement to a new technology.

What are some ways I can foster curiosity and ingenuity in youth while playing with the mirrors and periscopes?

Try asking youth to achieve the goal with more or fewer mirrors. Does your classroom have a high window? Ask youth how they might be able to use it to spy what's going on outside.

Is there a way to make a message indiscernible without the filters and legible with the filters?

No, not really. The crayons and highlighter colors are not subtle enough to make a message completely hidden until a filter is used. If this is disappointing, try hiding messages with the filters by writing a message in red and viewing it with red cellophane to see if it is harder to read. The quality of the cellophane also makes a difference.

What else can optical filters do?

Polarized sunglasses are another type of optical filter. They filter out bright reflected light so that you can see through the surface of the water or filter out glare while skiing, boating, or driving. A black light is an optical filter that allows us to see UV light.

What if someone in our group is color-blind?

Typically, when people are color-blind they can see some colors, but not a full range. Blue is typically easier to see for color-blind people. Try having this person use the blue colors and filters as opposed to the red. It also may be an interesting opportunity for comparison, but avoid singling out this youth in case the attention is unwanted.

What are some things that work well when trying to make a hidden message?

Squiggles and hatching can help obscure a message. So can writing other letters or numbers over the message. It may not be possible, however, to completely obscure the message, as discussed above.

What is LiDAR? How much do I need to know about it?

LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) is a remote sensing technology that measures the distance to a target by illuminating that target with a laser and measuring how quickly the reflected laser light comes back to the instrument. It can be used to map the elevation and topography of a landscape. Take a look at our two short explanatory videos (LiDAR Theory and LiDAR Uses) and familiarize yourself with the following FAQs to help answer youth questions about LiDAR.

Why would you use the low-resolution LiDAR when the high resolution is so much better?

High-resolution LiDAR is more expensive and time-consuming to produce. It is a trade-off. With the same amount of time and money, you can either have detailed image in a smaller area or less detailed image over a large area. To drive this concept home, try setting a price per straw and a maximum budget.

How can I explain the relationship between the plastic straws and LiDAR?

The straws simulate LiDAR because they demonstrate how measuring the distance to multiple points on a surface can create an image or map of that surface. Each straw represents a pixel. If you measured the height difference of each straw after pressing it on to a shape, then you would have a bunch of numbers on a grid that tell you elevation, just like raw LiDAR data.

Why is 3D mapping important?

Maps are important to getting to where you want to go. That is why we use road maps in our GPS devices to get to a new place. 3D maps are just as important. Say you want to build a new road, send out search and rescue team in the mountains, or land a rover on Mars. You need to know what the terrain is like, and a 3D map is the best way to find out.

This activity is term-heavy. Where can I find a glossary of terms like “pixel” and “resolution”?

Check out the Remote Sensing Vocabulary. Vocabulary is also included on page 16 of the Science Educator Guide.

Should the youth engineer devices that are different from those already used? Can there be more than one device?

This depends on the amount of time and materials you have on hand. If you have limited time and materials, the same or similar devices can be used and then improved in Activity 5. With more time and materials, consider adding a constraint to spur creativity, such as only one device can be made.

Is there a way to structure this activity so that it is self-paced?

If you have a small group of youth or an assistant who is familiar with the curriculum, you can try combining Activities 4 and 5 for quick-learners. Make sure you don’t skip Activity 5, however, as it's a critical part of the EDP! For youth who finish early, have them make flyers or posters for the Engineering Showcase!

How do we help kids with failure?

Failure is a big part of the Engineering Design Process. Engineers learn from every mistake they make and the ultimate device is better off for it. Engineers sometimes make mistakes on purpose so they can learn how to avoid them later when it's more crucial to get it right. Mistakes and failure can even lead to new inventions to solve problems that weren't even part of the original goal. Explain this to youth and say that their failure is a common and important part of the process. Also, it will make improving their device that much easier in the next activity!

How can I get youth to communicate their data clearly? How can I provide more scaffolding for this concept?

Try projecting examples of maps, graphs, charts, and annotated drawings so that youth can fill their own data into a provided format.

What are some other constraints that I can add to inspire improvements?

Ask the youth, How can you improve resolution? Can you make everything into one device? Can you make the same thing with less materials? What else do you want to know about the Mystery Moon and how could you change your device to gather that information?

Should youth devices look similar to each other?

You may find that the devices each group creates are similar, but they do not have to be similar. The sky's the limit. The only requirements are the criteria and the constraints: What do you need to do (answer the scientist's question) and what limitations do you have (materials provided, size, etc.)?

How can we help youth who do not want to modify what they have made?

Focus for a minute on how great it is that the youth are proud of their device! Congratulate them on their accomplishment. Then return to the Engineering Design Process and point out the improvement step. Also, bring up the examples of improved technology in Prep Activity 2. What if we decided that we were fine with just the landline telephone or candle? Point out how much more proud they'll be when the device is even better.

How do we help kids with failure?

Failure is a big part of the Engineering Design Process. Engineers learn from every mistake they make and the ultimate device is better off for it. Mistakes and failure can even lead to new inventions to solve problems that weren't even part of the original goal. Explain this to youth and say that their failure is a common and important part of the process.

What is a mineral? What are iron and magnesium and why might we want to find them on the Mystery Moon?

Minerals are naturally occurring, solid, crystalline chemical compounds that are the “building blocks” of rocks. Iron and magnesium are two elements of the periodic table. Iron and magnesium are minerals commonly found in volcanic minerals and rocks, which help us understand how the Mystery Moon was formed.

How can I get my parents and organization excited about the Engineering Showcase?

Consider having youth run a marketing campaign by using brain-breaks or down time to create posters or flyers. Send invitations to family, administrators, staff, community partners, etc.

I have never done this before. What are some resources I can use to plan a Showcase?

The Engineering Educator Guide has a flyer on page 84 that you can copy and post all over your organization. Try having youth that finish early decorate these and post them outside the room. You can send this home with parents as well as in invitation if time is limited for creating a letter. Consider offering snacks and drinks to make it more of an event. Set time aside prior to the Showcase so that youth can help set up stations to show their guests what they made and how to test it. You can even have youth practice the presentations.
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NASA Resources

NASA Videos

Sensing Our Climate: Watching Our World
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What is Technology?

Youth consider the definition of technology as any thing or process humans (engineers) design to solve a problem.

Youth Will Know
  • A technology is any thing designed by humans to solve a problem. 
  • Engineers design and improve technologies. 
  • There are always opportunities to improve existing technologies. 

Activity Downloads

P2_What_Is_Technology_Educator_Guide
What Is Technology Educator Guide
pdf 546.67 KB
P2_What_Is_Technology_Engineering_Journal
What Is Technology Engineering Notebook (English)
pdf 186.44 KB
P2_What_Is_Technology_Engineering_Journal_Spanish
What Is Technology Engineering Notebook (Spanish)
pdf 423.39 KB
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Activity Trivia Icon

Setup

The Educator Guide has a script, materials list, and prep directions. Be sure to have it open and ready to help guide you through every activity. 

  • Post the Engineering Design Process poster. 
  • Copy and cut out the Technology Match Cards, Educator Guide pp. 13–23: one for each student or group. 
  • Watch and prepare to play the Engineering Everywhere Special Report video (9:51). 
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Guiding Question

What is technology and how can it solve problems?

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Youth Will Do

  • Match technologies based on the problem they solve. 
  • Imagine ways to improve the newer versions of technologies. 
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Did You Know?

  • People can turn almost any thing into technology, if they use it to solve a problem. A rock can be used to grind corn or shaped into an arrowhead. 
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Quick Tips

  • Don't skip the video! It sets the stage for the entire unit. 
  • If youth are not familiar with the technologies on the cards, have them work in groups to figure out the pairs together. 

Glossary

  • Technology: any thing designed by humans to solve a problem 
  • Remote Sensing: to collect information from a distance 

Videos

Engineering Everywhere Special Report: Remote Sensing

Activity Timing

5 min
Introduction
10 min
Investigate
15 min
Imagine and Improve
15 min
Special Report Video
10 min
Reflect
55 min
Total
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Quick Links & Resources

Resources

Remote-Sensing-Unit-At-A-Glance_0922
Remote Sensing Unit at a Glance
pdf 774.41 KB
Remote-Sensing-Learning-Progressions_0922
Remote Sensing Learning Progressions
pdf 4.41 MB
Remote-Sensing-Back-Pocket-Activity-Essentials_0922
Remote Sensing Back Pocket Activity Essentials
pdf 1.35 MB
Remote-Sensing-Tips-for-Interactivity
Remote Sensing Tips for Interactivity
pdf 735.68 KB
Remote-Sensing-Vocabulary
Remote Sensing Vocabulary
pdf 636.19 KB
Developing-21st-Century-Skills
Developing 21st Century Skills
pdf 1.52 MB
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Remote Sensing and Mars

Youth explore the idea that NASA scientists are interested in finding evidence of past water on Mars that would indicate habitability. They are challenged to select one of four landing sites for a rover by examining high-resolution images of landforms on Mars.

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robot and mars
Youth Will Know
  • NASA is interested in learning whether Mars could have once supported life.  
  • Life on Earth depends on water.  
  • NASA spacecraft take pictures of Mars and send the images back to Earth as data. 

Activity Downloads

S1_Introducing_Mars_and_Remote_Sensing_Educator_Guide
Remote Sensing and Mars Educator Guide
pdf 1.89 MB
S1_Introducing_Mars_and_Remote_Sensing_Science_Notebook
Remote Sensing and Mars Science Notebook
pdf 493.11 KB
S1_Introducing_Mars_and_Remote_Sensing_Data_Packet
Remote Sensing and Mars Data Packet
pdf 2.02 MB
S1_Landforms_Glossary
Landforms Glossary
pdf 1.16 MB
S1_Landing_Site_Ellipses
Landing Ellipses
pdf 171.76 KB
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Activity Trivia Icon

Setup

The Educator Guide has a script, materials list, and prep directions. Be sure to have it open and ready to help guide you through every activity. 

  • Read through the entire PLANETS Science Series guide. 
  • Print or copy Science Notebooks, one for each youth. 
  • Print or copy, and staple Data Packets, Landforms Glossary, and Mineral Data Sheets, from the Educator Guide (color if possible), one for each group. 
  • Print or copy Landing Ellipses and cut out for each group. 
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Guiding Question

  • What do scientists want to learn about Mars, and why is it necessary to land on the surface? 
  • What makes a good landing site? 
  • What NASA remote sensing data are available to help choose a landing site? 
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Youth Will Do

  • Compare landforms on Earth and Mars.  
  • Interpret image data to find safe and scientifically interesting locations. 
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Did You Know

Mars still has water; it is just mostly in the form of ice at the poles or trapped in minerals and underground. 

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Quick Tips

  • The Viking, HiRISE, and CTX images are at different scales. The ellipses are to be traced on the CTX (10 km scale bar) images only. 
  • If your Data Packet prints out small, your landing ellipses will be too big. Have your students draw their own with a pencil. 
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Glossary

Data: information that is collected through scientific investigation 

Evidence: information or data that supports an idea, claim, or belief 

Video

Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror

Activity Timing

5 min
Introduction
10 min
Formulating Science Questions
15 min
Introduce the Challenge
10 min
Explore the Visual Data
10 min
Wrap Up
50 min
Total
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Choose a Landing Site

Youth combine all data to recommend the safest, most interesting landing site.

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robot on mars
Youth Will Know

They can use data gathered from remote sensing technology to recommend the safest, most interesting landing site. 

Activity Downloads

S4_Choosing_a_Landing_Site_Educator_Guide
Choose a Landing Site Educator Guide
pdf 1.16 MB
S4_Choosing_a_Landing_Site_Science_Notebook
Choose a Landing Site Science Notebook
pdf 288.93 KB
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Activity Trivia Icon

Setup

The Educator Guide has a script, materials list, and prep directions. Be sure to have it open and ready to help guide you through every activity. 

  • Revisit the PLANETS Science Series Educator Guide if it's been a week or more since you completed a Science Series activity. 
  • For this activity you will need Science Notebooks for each youth plus Data Packets, Landforms Glossary, Landing Ellipses, and Mineral Data Sheets for each group. 
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Guiding Questions

  • How can we choose a landing site that will meet our criteria? 
  • How can we share what we found out? 
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Youth Will Do

  • Integrate their understanding of prior data sets to select where to land on Mars. 
  • Justify their reasoning about landing site selection and communicate their explanation to others. 
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Did You Know

The Curiosity Rover sings itself "Happy Birthday" every year on August 5th. The rest of the year, Curiosity is programmed to collect and send scientific data back to Earth. 

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Quick Tips

  • Youth can present and share in a variety of ways. Here are some options: a list of ranked landing sites, an annotated image or drawing, or an oral or written argument. 
  • Emphasize how scientists must use multiple sources of evidence when making claims. 
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Glossary

Data: information that is collected through scientific investigation 

Evidence: information or data that supports an idea, claim, or belief 

Videos Related to this Activity

Mars 2020 Interview Alicia Trim
Is There Water on Mars?
Perseverance Interview with Robin Fergason
Mars 2020 Interview with Ryan Anderson
Mars 2020 Interview Alicia Trim
Is There Water on Mars?
Perseverance Interview with Robin Fergason
Mars 2020 Interview with Ryan Anderson

Activity Timing

5 min.
Introduction
15 min.
Prepare for the Presentation
30 min.
Share Out and Discussion
5 min.
Wrap Up
55 min
Total
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Background Knowledge: Scientific Concepts

Planetary Science and the Study of Mars

If youth completed the Engineering Everywhere unit, Worlds Apart: Engineering Remote Sensing Devices, they learned about three types of remote sensing technologies: telescopes, filters, and LiDAR. The PLANETS Science Series Activities explore similar instruments that help scientists learn more about the minerals and topography of Mars so they can choose a landing site. In these activities, youth learn more about remote sensing tools and techniques that planetary scientists use to understand habitable environments on Mars, and how the planet has changed over geologic time.

Planetary scientists try to answer big questions such as the following:

  • How have the planets in our solar system changed over time?
  • Did life evolve only on Earth, or is there evidence that life evolved on other planets, too?

This unit focuses on the exploration of Mars. Scientific evidence indicates that Mars may have once had a more Earth-like climate, but now it is a dry and cold desert. Scientists want to know how the climate on Mars changed and whether life could have evolved there. Mars is also closer to Earth than many other planets, making it easier to send future missions there.

One reason to land on Mars is to collect samples that can be returned to Earth for detailed analysis in a laboratory. For example, volcanic rocks contain minerals that can be analyzed to find out how old the rock is, allowing scientists to get a much better understanding of how Mars changed over time. Some types of sedimentary rocks may contain organic (carbon-based) materials that give clues to whether life could ever have evolved on Mars. Even without returning samples to Earth, landing robotic rovers on Mars allows scientists to explore new areas and understand the processes that shaped the surface of the planet. Some of the most scientifically interesting locations to visit are places like impact crater walls or canyons where different rock layers are exposed in the walls. Layers of rocks are like the pages in a book that tell the story of the geologic history of an area.

But steep canyons and crater walls are dangerous places to try to land a spacecraft. There is a tradeoff between sites of interest to scientists and sites that are safe to land on. The ideal site has a broad, flat area to land on, as well as interesting minerals and landforms nearby, so scientists can learn more about the planet’s past. In the following activities, youth will learn how they can use remote sensing to identify such a site.

Landing Sites on Mars

To help youth work through the activities, it is helpful for educators to have some background knowledge about each of the locations that youth will be studying. All of the following locations are actual Mars rover landing sites or have been considered as landing site candidates.

Note: These descriptions are intended for educators, and include the “answers” for each of the sites. Youth-oriented descriptions of the sites are included in the activities.

 

Site 1: Gale Crater

The Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity landed in Gale Crater in 2012 and continues to explore. Gale is a large impact crater. This site is interesting because the middle of the crater contains a mountain that is 3.4 miles (5.5 km) tall and is made of layered sedimentary rocks. The layered rocks have spectral signatures of clay minerals and sulfates, indicating multiple different environments involving water. The crater floor is also made of layers of sediment washed down from the crater rim. The floor is flat and safe for landing. Near the base of the mountain, there are black sand dunes containing olivine and pyroxene.

In the HiRISE insets provided to the youth, location A shows layered rocks and a channel carved into the rocks by water and filled with sediment. Location B shows the black sand dunes.

Site 2: Jezero Crater (Yez-er-oh or Jez-er-oh)

NASA chose the Jezero Crater as the landing site for the Perseverance rover which landed in February of 2021. It is a large impact crater. It is interesting because the northwestern rim of the crater is breached by an ancient river channel which ends in a fan-shaped deposit of layered sedimentary rocks (possibly an ancient river delta). River deltas form when flowing water carrying sediment empties into a standing body of water like a lake. The Jezero delta contains clay minerals, and some of the crater floor deposits contain carbonate minerals. Much of the crater floor is covered by an old lava flow, which forms a flat surface with many small impact craters.

In the HiRISE insets provided to the youth, location A shows complex layers deposited in the delta. Location B shows the edge of the heavily cratered lava flow unit, with many small dunes at its base.

Site 3: Nili Fossae Trough (Nee-lee Foss-eye)

The Nili Fossae Trough was originally considered as a landing site in the Mars 2020 mission. However, Jezero Crater was selected as the landing site for Perseverance rover. Nili Fossae is located in a large, long valley, called a graben, or trough. The floor of the valley contains a lava flow and some clay minerals. The eroding walls also expose clay minerals, possibly formed by circulating hot water. Olivine (a mineral that comes from volcanoes) is also exposed in the walls. The higher ground outside the valley is very rugged and resistant to erosion because of a lava flow.

In the HiRISE insets provided to the youth, location A shows some large sand dunes.

Location B shows the edge of the cratered lava flow unit.

Site 4: Iani Chaos (ee-Ah-nee Kay-oss)

This area is one of several “chaos” terrains on Mars, which are areas where a huge amount of underground water was released, resulting in giant floods and the collapse of the area where the water was stored. Within Iani Chaos, there are layered deposits of sulfate minerals. The location in the Student Data Packets was chosen as an example of a scientifically interesting location that would not make a good landing site because it is too rough and not safe to land there.

In the HiRISE insets provided to the youth, location A shows an outcrop of sulfate-bearing fractured rock. In the CTX data, layers can be seen in the rocks at this site, but at this higher resolution, we can see that there aren’t obvious finer-scale layers. Location B shows the edge of a cratered lava flow unit, partially covered by small dunes.

Types of Remote Sensing Data

The chart below is intended for the educator’s background knowledge, but youth may also benefit from summarizing the data types in this way.

Data Type

What the Data Tell Us

Nasa Remote Sensing Tools

Visible Images

what the planet’s surface would look like to our eyes

· Viking—Low spatial resolution color
· Context Camera (CTX)—High spatial resolution black and white
· HiRISE—Extremely high spatial resolution black and white

Topographic Maps

how high or low the surface of the planet is

Mars Orbital Laser Altimeter (MOLA)

Spectroscopic Data

what minerals are present, which can tell us about the planet like in the past

Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM)

The Data Packets contain remote sensing data for the different Martian sites described above. Each data type provides a different “piece of the puzzle” when using them to answer questions about Mars’ geologic history. Youth will study the data types to become familiar with the concepts, and then use them all together to choose a landing site for a sample return mission.

Visible Light

Images collected using visible light can be displayed as either black-and-white images or color images that show what the surface would look like to a human observer. For example, the reddish colors are the actual colors of Martian rocks. In the 1970s, the Viking orbiter acquired visible-light images covering the entire planet. These images are useful to get an overview of large areas and for comparison to more recent remote sensing data.

Because Viking was a 1970’s era spacecraft, the images are not as high in quality as images from modern spacecraft. Visible-light images covering the entire planet have also been acquired with the Context Camera (CTX) onboard a satellite called the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which started orbiting Mars in 2006. This camera acquires only black-and-white images, but they are better quality images, with more details about surface features, than older Viking images.

The Student Data Packets include annotated versions of the CTX images, with key geologic features labeled. A small portion of the surface of Mars has been observed at extremely high resolution using the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). This camera also acquires mostly black-and-white images, but they have a resolution of 25 cm per pixel, as compared to 6 meters per pixel with CTX.

Laser Light (LiDAR)

Laser light can be bounced off an object and used to determine how far away it is (because we know how fast light travels). This is called Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology. If you are flying over a planet’s surface with a LiDAR instrument, you can bounce laser light off its surface and determine the elevation and the shapes of objects on the surface, which are called landforms. A map that shows the elevations in an area is called a topographic map. The Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) is a LiDAR instrument that was on the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) satellite, which operated in orbit around Mars from 1997 to 2007. MOLA mapped the topography of the entire planet.

In the Student Data Packet, MOLA topographic maps are shown for each of the potential landing sites. The colors on the MOLA maps correspond to different elevations, and contour trace lines of equal elevation. Areas in the images that have the same color and widely spaced contour lines are at the same elevation. Areas where the color changes and the contour lines are close together are steep slopes.

Infrared Light

The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) is an instrument that can acquire images in the visible and infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. By taking hundreds of images of the same location at different wavelengths of light and stacking them, this instrument creates a data set in which each pixel contains a spectrum that provides clues about what minerals are located there. This data can be used to make maps that show the location of volcanic minerals and water-related minerals that indicate the past presence of liquid water, hot springs, or lakes on the surface of Mars.

In the Science Activity 3 Data Packet, the patterned areas on the mineral maps correspond to locations where specific minerals are detected with the CRISM instrument. For each pattern, there is a graph of the laboratory spectrum of the important mineral. Youth can compare these spectra to those on the Mineral Fingerprints Handout to identify the minerals.

Video Resouces

Mars 2020 Interview
Remote Sensing Overview
Mars 2020 Interview
Remote Sensing Overview
How to Teach These Units
Explore all Remote Sensing offerings including background videos, downloads, learning pathways, and more!

Learning Pathways

In this unit, youth think and work like scientists and engineers as they investigate and use real NASA data about Mars to select a scientifically interesting landing site and design remote sensing devices. In both the science and engineering pathways, youth have the opportunity to build their problem solving, teamwork, communication, and creative thinking skills.

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Science Pathway

Planetary scientists often use the technologies developed by engineers to further their understanding of the planets, satellites, and smaller bodies in the solar system. Engaging in the study of other planets provides scientific insight into to the origins of features on Earth. 

 

The science pathway supports youth exploration in the field of planetary science. They participate in a fictional NASA mission to choose a landing site for a Mars rover. Youth engage with and interpret Mars data captured during actual NASA missions. In these activities, youth learn about the data obtained by remote sensing tools and techniques developed by engineers. They explore how planetary scientists use data from these technologies to understand habitable environments on Mars, and how the planet has changed over geologic time. 

 

Activity 1: Remote Sensing and Mars 

Youth use images of Mars to find a landing site for a rover of scientific interest to NASA that may indicate past water. 

 

Activity 2: Landing Site Topography 

Provides opportunities for youth to compare topographic features of four potential landing sites. 

 

Activity 3: Mineral Fingerprinting 

Youth identify minerals that indicate past water or volcanism. 

 

Activity 4: Choose a Landing Site 

Youth combine all data to recommend the safest, most interesting landing site. 

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Engineering Pathway

Remote sensing engineering is an interdisciplinary field that deals with the collection of data remotely, or from a distance. It has a wide variety of applications, from creating models of cities or natural landscapes to helping scientists predict the effects of climate change to precisely tracking orbiting satellites. Remote sensing engineers use techniques from many fields, such as cartography, optics, civil engineering, software engineering, and computer science. 

 

In the activities of this pathway, youth are part of a team on a fictional NASA mission. They will engineer remote sensing devices to gather and visualize information about the surface of Mars. The data they collect will help the scientists meet their scientific goals, such as choosing a landing site that is best suited for gathering data on the geological features of the landscape and looking for evidence of water. 

 

Prep Activity 1: What Is Engineering? 

Youth are introduced to the Engineering Design Process as they work together to engineer a tower to support a model antenna. 

 

Prep Activity 2: What Is Technology? 

Youth match technologies based on the problem they solve and imagine ways to improve the newer version. 

 

Activity 1: Looking Beyond 

Youth use mirrors to change the way light travels in order to see hidden objects. 

 

Activity 2: Secret Messages 

Youth explore how manipulating light and color can help them interpret information from a distance that would otherwise be difficult to see. 

 

Activity 3: Taking Shape 

Youth engineer a technology that models LiDAR to gather topographical information about the features of a surface. 

 

Activity 4: Create a Remote Sensing Device 

Youth work in groups to create remote sensing technologies that can collect data about the Mystery Moon. 

 

Activity 5: Improve 

Youth will improve their remote sensing devices and use them to take a final reading from two locations on the Mystery Moon. 

 

Activity 6: Engineering Showcase 

Youth communicate their knowledge of remote sensing devices and the information they gathered about the Mystery Moon at the Engineering Showcase. 

All Downloads

These resources provide all the information you need to teach the Science, Engineering, and At Home Activities in this unit. 

Science

Download Name Description File Data
Remote Sensing - Science Unit - All Files
All Science Files
These resources provide all the information you need to teach the Science Activites in this unit.
zip 26.3 MB
Remote-Sensing-Science-Educator-Guide_3
Science Educator Guide
This guide explains each of the Science Activities in this unit.
pdf 16.33 MB
Remote-Sensing-Science-Notebook
Science Notebook
Learners record information in this notebook as they complete Science Activities.
pdf 1.06 MB
Remote-Sensing-Science-Data-Packet
Data Packet
Learners explore information in this Data Packet to learn about the landforms, topography, and minerals of Mars.
pdf 3.85 MB

Engineering

Download Name Description File Data
Remote Sensing - Engineering Unit - All Files
All Engineering Files
These resources provide all the information you need to teach the Engineering Activities in this unit.
zip 27.31 MB
Remote-Sensing-Engineering-Educator-Guide
Engineering Educator Guide
This guide explains each of the Engineering Activities in this unit.
pdf 7.53 MB
PLANETS_Remote_Sensing_Engineering_Notebook
Engineering Notebook
Learners record information in this notebook as they complete Engineering Activities.
pdf 1.6 MB
Remote-Sensing-Engineering-Journal-Spanish
Engineering Notebook in Spanish
Learners record information in this notebook as they complete Engineering Activities.
pdf 8.61 MB
Engineering-Design-Process_Poster
Engineering Design Process Poster
This poster shows the steps of the process learners use to engineer technologies.
pdf 5.12 MB

At Home

Download Name Description File Data
Remote Sensing Home - All
All At Home Files
These resources provide all the information needed to complete the at-home activities.
zip 6.54 MB
Remote_Sensing_Investigation_Guide
Investigation Guide
This guide explains how to make a spectrometer and explore light at home.
pdf 3.71 MB
Remote_Sensing_Investigation_Data_Packet
Data Packet
This packet contains light graphs that can help determine the minerals on Mars.
pdf 3.18 MB