by RACHEL JACKSON | Primary Specialist at ESERO-UK/STEM Learning

 

Is there life on Mars? This question is one that people have asked for decades, with stories, cartoons, comics, films and games all bringing the idea of aliens and space travel into our popular culture. The European Space Agency (ESA) might be able to enlighten us, through the findings of its ExoMars mission.

 

What is the ExoMars mission?

The ExoMars mission is a collaboration between ESA and the Russian State Space Corporation, Roscosmos. By working together, the ExoMars mission has already put a spacecraft in orbit around Mars – the Trace Gas Orbiter.

The second part of the mission, now due to launch in 2022, is sending a high-tech rover, Rosalind Franklin, to Mars to take soil samples. Samples from different areas on the surface and underground will be analysed to try and find evidence that life may once have existed on Mars.

As this topic holds such fascination, it’s a wonderful context in which to base learning at primary school. The ExoMars resources are a great place to start.

 

Develop thinking skills through science

Classroom-ready resources and activities for supporting learning in many topics across science activities are accessible through Explorify’s platform and ESERO-UK.

Why not try these ideas?

  • start a conversation about what is left after an animal has died, sparking curiosity and debate with a selection of everyday objects
  • explore the effects of reduced gravity and plant growth on Mars
  • investigate which materials would protect astronauts from the Martian atmosphere
  • consider adaptations of extremophile organisms when exploring evolution

Work scientifically

Discuss the characteristics of living things and ask pupils how we could look for evidence of these life processes. For example, we could observe evidence of movement on Earth, but how could this be done when exploring a distant planet? What about other evidence of life we could look for? Most likely, any life found on Mars will be microscopic, so ask pupils to test samples of ‘Martian soil’ for the presence of microorganisms and investigate the conditions
affecting their growth. Pupils can also compare and test the samples, identifying properties that indicate characteristics of ‘Martian soil’. These activities are taken from the resource booklet Is there anyone out there? and are perfect for the ExoMars mission.

 

Activities

From finding out about Martian weather and alien life to mechanisms involved in taking samples, these activities provide lots of opportunities for working scientifically.

MARS MISSION

Younger pupils can explore weather and make their own simple instruments to measure wind speed. Older learners can use real data to compare and contrast the climate of Earth and Mars, and then research and prepare a weather report for Mars.

EXPLORE WHERE TO LAND ON MARS

Find a landing site – working in groups of space scientists, pupils consider different possible locations to land the Rosalind Franklin rover on Mars. They look at maps, data and the criteria necessary for the lander to land safely, then decide together which site to choose. Will they choose the actual landing site chosen by the ESA team?

DESIGN AND MAKE YOUR OWN MARS ROVER

Pupils find out about robots like Rosalind Franklin and then design and make their own rover, investigating how to collect different types of samples. They also explore different mechanisms and ways to lift and analyse them on the rover. This activity makes for a great D&T project, which can be carried out over a term in class or in an after-school STEM Club. The Rosalind Franklin rover was designed and made in the UK. Abbie Hutty was one of the engineers involved in the project. Pupils can work like engineers, finding and solving problems and coming up with suitable design solutions. Who knows, maybe one of your class will end up working in the UK’s thriving space industry!

MARS CHALLENGE – CODE A ROVER

The Rosalind Franklin rover will be programmed to explore the Martian landscape. In the Mars Challenge, pupils learn about coding and improve their digital literacy using the context of Mars exploration. This includes unplugged programming to code the rover to navigate around obstacles and explore different locations on the planet.

TAKE A MARS SAFARI

This resource is designed to leave pupils feeling like they’ve explored the Red Planet. Working in small groups, pupils design and build their own ExoMars rover, safely navigate the rover across the surface of Mars and make a solar light that only comes on at night. It contains activities that can be done as standalone sessions or as part of a wider project, learning about the ExoMars rover.

 

Share your exploration of Mars

We hope that you enjoy exploring Mars through the ExoMars mission. We have created an ExoMars poster for you to share with your pupils to inspire them about space exploration. The poster is free to download from our website, and we hope it will stimulate pupils’ thinking about science, design and technology.

Download poster

 

Resources to get you to Mars

 

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