The Make up of Mars 1

High and Dry

Experiment with Martian land formation

Besides the vast volcanoes, colossal canyons and crumbling craters, Mars has many other fascinating land formations. Those created through collapse by melting ice are perhaps the most enigmatic. Here are two places where this may have happened.

(left) Eastern Valles Marineris, Quorn Crater (right) Western Utopia Planitia, near Meroe Crater © Images: NASA

In some places dust and rock has heaped or built up, through various geological processes, on top of ice. This ice has then melted away at some stage and left strange shapes in the landscape.

See if you can make miniatures of some of these land formations.

Materials: You need:

A large icecream tub or similar box
Some sand
Some water
Some icecubes
Access to a freezer or ice-box
A hair drier (optional)
A tray to catch the water


1) Fill the bottom of the tub with a little water. Freeze it.

2) When frozen, stick some icecubes to the frozen water by wetting the cubes and then simply putting them on. make mountains and valleys with the cubes. You can chip and shape them if you like - the more irregular the better!

3) Freeze this ice sculpture again, and then add a layer of damp sand. Freeze this. Add more layers of ice and sand till the tub is full. Freeze this well.

4) When deep frozen, turn the landscape out onto the tray. Either way up will do. Now let the ice melt and see what happens. The hair drier will help make the ice melt and also add wind effects to you landscape. You can also shake the tray a little to simulate earthquake, or simply put the landscape on top of you freezer when it is running. The vibration will have a similar effect!

You may consider videoing the process, as it will take some time - 4 hours or more. You can then go back and watch the interesting parts on fast forward.

Things to think about:

Point 1:

What sort of forms and structures do you get in your landscape? Are they like those on Mars - look at the pictures on the other parts of the website? Can you draw any conclusions about the land forms you see in the Martian landscape?

Point 2:

You may also notice how frost forms on the high spots of your land surface when you expose your landscape to the warm atmosphere (left image, below). Note the lighter colours on the higher lumps of sand. This is frost.

Compare this with what may be seen on Mars in this Viking 2 Lander image(right image, below: © NASA). Does this look familiar? But do you notice a difference? Is the frost forming on the high or low points? What does it indicate about the relative temperatures of the atmosphere and land on Mars? What is going on?

Return to Rover


Teachers and those in a hurry may take the quick route to the lessons via the index.

Enter the Teachers' Wormhole to go to the Main Index Page.