Educator Features

Mysteries of Earth and Mars
01.24.06
Mars in front of the much larger Earth
Earth is almost twice the diameter of Mars. If Earth were the size of a baseball, Mars would be the size of a ping-pong ball. Nearly 70 percent of Earth is covered with liquid water; Mars has none. The sun warms Earth's surface to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. On Mars the temperature rarely surpasses the freezing mark.

Image to right: Despite their obvious differences, Mars and the Earth have much in common. Credit: NASA

Yet in many ways, Mars is more like Earth than any other planet in the solar system. Both have valleys and mountains, weather and seasons, and volcanoes and ice caps. At 24 hours and 39 minutes, the Martian day is only a little bit longer than Earth's. And although dry today, Mars may at one time have had enough liquid water to support primitive forms of life.

"JASON Expedition: Mysteries of Earth and Mars" is the latest in a series of supplementary science curricula for grades 4-9 developed by the nonprofit JASON Project, a subsidiary of the National Geographic Society. Through a variety of classroom and online activities, students explore the similarities and differences between Earth and Mars. They discover what can be learned about each planet from studying the other.

The Mysteries of Earth and Mars series includes a student activities book, teachers guide, introductory video and access to JASON's online community. The expedition is highlighted by a weeklong broadcast (via satellite or the Internet) featuring scientists, students and teachers conducting research in the field. The broadcast is scheduled for Jan. 30 through Feb. 4, 2006.

"Today's middle school students have grown up with video games, the Internet and other technologies that grab their attention," said Caleb Schutz, JASON Project president. "We try to capture their excitement for exploration and discovery by using parallel technologies and partnering it with enthusiastic teachers."

Dr. Jim Garvin
Image to left: Jim Garvin, NASA scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center, will discuss what can be learned from studying craters on Earth and Mars. Credit: NASA

Activities include designing and building a model Mars rover, simulating the formation of an impact crater, analyzing a Martian meteorite, comparing and contrasting Earth and Mars-like soil, and studying water samples and aquatic forms of life. The activities support national education standards in science, math, geography, technology and language arts.

Students also get to know the expedition's "host researchers" -- NASA and university scientists and engineers, as well as college students majoring in science and engineering. In print and online, the host researchers talk about how they became interested in their fields. They explain how they conduct their work and what tools they use. They discuss where they like to travel and what they do for fun. They also offer advice to students thinking about a career in science.

Systems engineer Tracy Drain
Image to right: Tracy Drain, a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will explain how the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's many systems can work together so smoothly. Credit: NASA

Seven NASA centers have participated to support this year's "Mysteries of Earth and Mars" expedition, with three of them -- the Ames Research Center, the Johnson Space Center and the Goddard Space Flight Center -- hosting free training sessions for teachers and planning to air the expedition broadcast.

In addition to its student expeditions, JASON offers professional development opportunities for teachers through online courses, face-to-face workshops and an annual educators conference. JASON is supported by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Education, other government agencies and private entities.

For more information on JASON and previous expeditions, please visit: http://www.jason.org.

Related Resources
Earth/Mars Comparison Poster
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JASON: Disappearing Wetlands
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Dan Stillman/Institute for Global Environmental Strategies