Mars Update

Mars Update begins with a brief overview of how our views on Mars have changed over the years - from H.G. Wells and Percival Lowell to the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. From there we look at where to find Mars in the current night sky as well as the current status of the various spacecraft working at Mars, what they've discovered, and what other spacecraft have been or will be doing on Mars.

Mars Update is recommended for ages 4 and up. Teachers interested in bringing a school group should consult the Tennessee Curriculum standards information listed below.

Mars Update is not currently available.

For More Information

Mars Update is recommended for Grades 4 and up.

5th Grade

Earth and Space Science

  • GLE 0507.6.1 Compare planets based on their known characteristics.

6th Grade

Earth and Space Science

  • GLE 0607.6.2 Describe the relative distance of objects in the solar system from earth.

High School

Earth Science

  • CLE 3204.1.2 Examine the components of the solar system.
  • CLE 3204.1.4 Investigate the history of space exploration.

Physical Science

  • CLE 3202.4.2 Relate gravitational force to mass

Conceptual Physics / Physics

  • CLE 3237.Inq.1 / CLE 3231.Inq.1 Recognize that science is a progressive endeavor that reevaluates and extends what is already accepted.


  1. Name three things Earth and Mars have in common. Describe what observations caused some to think there was water on Mars. Describe at least one piece of recent evidence that there was water on Mars in the past or that there is water / ice on Mars today.

Pre-Visit Activities

  1. Have students compare and contrast Venus, Mars and Earth in size, distance from the Sun, atmosphere, temperature, etc.
  2. Have students investigate the motion of Mars as seen in the sky from Earth. What causes retrograde (backward) motion in the sky? Define the terms opposition and conjunction. Compare the motion of Mars to Venus. Venus is closer to the Sun than Earth. How does this affect what we see from Earth?
  3. Explore the way Mars has been portrayed in literature and popular culture, from War of the Worlds (H.G. Wells) and the Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury) to Marvin the Martian. Has science changed these views over time? Are there any realistic movies about Mars?

Post-Visit Activities

  1. If Mars is visible in the current night sky, ask students to observe the planet.
  2. Have students explore the history of human/robotic exploration of Mars. Several countries have been active in this exploration. How successful have these efforts been? Why have missions to Mars had such a high failure rate?
  3. Visit the Mars Rover website at and explore both the work already done by the Rovers and what they are doing today. Go on to investigate plans for future missions such as the Mars Science Laboratory. How would future missions be different, and what more do we hope to learn?
  4. Have students investigate what would be needed to send humans to Mars: how long such a mission would last, what supplies would be needed, and how such missions would be different from the Apollo missions to the Moon. Are there any current plans for humans to travel to Mars? Explore why a mission beyond our solar system is unrealistic. Students could debate the pros and cons of human versus robotic exploration.
  5. What is the naming system for major features on Mars? How does this compare to naming features on the Moon, Mercury, Venus, and other objects in the solar system? How and why do scientists name smaller objects they see on the surface?
  6. Science Fiction writers have suggested that we can terraform other planets such as Mars, giving them an atmosphere and making them more habitable. Students can investigate what Mars would need to make it a place humans could live on without spacesuits. Is this a reasonable goal?
  7. Some meteorites found on Earth have been identified as coming from Mars. Why do scientists think these rocks are from Mars and what can they tell us?


  • basalt
  • Beagle 2
  • canali
  • Carl Sagan
  • Chryse Planitia
  • conjunction
  • E.E. Barnard
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • engineer
  • face on Mars
  • geologist
  • H.G. Wells
  • history of the telescope
  • image processing
  • Mariner 4
  • Mariner 9
  • Mars Climate Orbiter
  • Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity
  • Mars Express
  • Mars Global Surveyor
  • Mars Observer
  • Mars Odyssey
  • Mars Pathfinder
  • Mars Phoenix Lander
  • Mars Polar Lander
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
  • Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity
  • martian canals
  • martian volcanoes
  • meteorologist
  • microscope
  • Olympus Mons
  • opposition
  • Percival Lowell
  • principal investigator
  • Queen Victoria
  • radio signal travel time
  • RAT - rock abrasion tool
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Sojourner rover
  • spectrometer
  • thermal emission spectrometer
  • Utopia Planitia
  • Viking missions
  • War of the Worlds