• Understanding the term "terrestrial planet" and applying it to Mars.
  • Familiarity with the principal physical features of Mars  
  • Understanding of the processes that create Mars' surface
  • To make models of Martian volcanoes
  • To create a "tourist guide" to Mars

OVERVIEW: Mars is a terrestrial planet, in as much as it shares certain common things with Earth [TERRA = Earth]. It is small, rocky, with a thin atmosphere compared to Jupiter or Saturn. It is relatively warm, and much denser than water. Like the Earth, it has polar caps, volcanoes, riverbeds, and deep valleys, but no true mountains like the Himalayas, Rockies or Alps. [There seem to be no mountain-building processes on Mars] and no water on its surface. Nonetheless, similar processes exist on Mars and the Earth, but they differ in their details.

PROCEDURE: The largest volcano in the Solar System is found on Mars and is called "Olympus Mons" - Mount Olympus, named after the home of the Greek gods. See what you can find out about the Greek Mount Olympus.

Olympus Mons is more than three times as high as Mount Everest. It has grown so big because it is formed from the same density material as an Earth volcano but is only subject to a third of Earth's gravity. It can therefore reach a greater height and volume without sinking or collapsing. Martian volcanoes tend to stay where they form, just getting bigger and bigger. They also have very gentle slopes compared with Earth volcanoes [typically ~4 degrees].

To make your own Olympus Mons, make a lot of very fine papier mache. Take a 35mm plastic film canister, and glue it to a large, flat piece of card. Build up a broad, flattish cone up to the top of the film pot, and leave it to dry. Paint it a brown-grey. Put some baking powder in the film pot, and then add vinegar. What happens? Colour the baking powder with different colours of dry powder paint, and see if you get a pattern of different lava flows. How far does the lava flow? What do you think governs the distance it flows?

Other volcanoes in the area called Elysium seem to have produced ash rather than lava. You can make one of these by making a flat pile of talcum powder or cornflour, and poking a straw into the bottom of it. Blow gently into the straw, and see if there is a pattern to the ash fall.

Craters on Mars are caused by meteorites. We can often see streaks of material behind the craters. This windblown material is very important in eroding the Martian surface. This material loses energy as it moves around the crater, and drops to the surface in a characteristic pattern. Make your own crater from card or papier mache, and blow fine material, like talcum powder towards it with a fan or hairdryer. See if you can get the same pattern as seen in the photographs.

We can see ancient river beds in the older southern highland areas. These look very similar to features you can see on a beach as water runs down it towards the sea. To try and make Martian riverbeds get a tray full of damp sand, tilt it slightly, and trickle water slowly into it from the higher end [you may have to experiment with this to get the best angle]. If you try several times, you should get braided channels. This shows that Mars once had flowing water.

Find out as much information about the different areas of Mars as you can.

Imagine that you are the Head of the Martian Tourist Board and design a brochure to attract tourists to Mars - point out the amazing things that can be seen.

  • Plan tourist routes to take in as many of the best sights as you can.
  • Plan activities that could be improved by Mars' lesser gravity.
  • Come up with suitable names for your various packages.
  • Design a "Martian Menu" for your restaurants.
  • Design tourist vehicles that will be able to travel over the rough Martian terrain - remember there are no roads!
  • Protect your guests from the hostile Martian conditions, but still let them see the sights.

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MartiLink - Geology

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