Life on Mars - Sources

This lesson was inspired by a workshop by Steve Ribisi of the University of Massachusetts and Mission 10 from the Life in the Universe curriculum, published by the SETI Institute.

To learn more about the Mars Rovers, go to the NASA/JPL website. The following are some of the highlights from this site that may be used in conjunction with this lesson:

  • NASA/JPL produced incredible computer animation sequences documenting the challenge of sending the rovers safely to Mars. I showed my students these videos as a prelude to assigning them an egg drop challenge - each student is given a chicken egg and must design a way to safely cushion the eggs fall from a third story window.
  • Read the latest update about the rovers to find out what they are up to.
  • To inspire girls in your class to pursue careers in engineering, show them this webcast of women engineers on the Mars NASA team.
  • Explore the Mars Fun Zone, a site packed with games and activities designed for kids to learn more about Mars.

To learn more about blueberries and hematite, see:

  • The NASA/JPL press release about the blueberries.
  • An article about the Mars blueberries by Astrobiology Magazine describes in detail the observations Opportunity made and how these results can be interpreted.
  • A press release from the University of Utah comparing the Mars blueberries to hematite concretions found at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. For the Nature article describing the study, go to the Nature website.

Grade 6
5. Organisms in ecosystems exchange energy and nutrients among themselves and with the environment. As a basis for understanding this concept:
e. Students know the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support depends on the resources available and on abiotic factors, such as quantities of light and water, a range of temperatures, and soil composition.

Grade 7
Cell Biology
1. All living organisms are composed of cells, from just one to many trillions, whose details usually are visible only through a microscope.

Structure and Function in Living Systems
5. The anatomy and physiology of plants and animals illustrate the complementary nature of structure and function. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know plants and animals have levels of organization for structure and function, including cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, and the whole organism.

Grade 8
Chemistry of Living Systems (Life Sciences)
6. Principles of chemistry underlie the functioning of biological systems. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know that carbon, because of its ability to combine in many ways with itself and other elements, has a central role in the chemistry of living organisms.
b. Students know that living organisms are made of molecules consisting largely of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur.       
c. Students know that living organisms have many different kinds of molecules, including small ones, such as water and salt, and very large ones, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and DNA.

Grades 9-12 Biology
Cell Biology
1. The fundamental life processes of plants and animals depend on a variety of chemical reactions that occur in specialized areas of the organism's cells. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know cells are enclosed within semipermeable membranes that regulate their interaction with their surroundings.
b. Students know enzymes are proteins that catalyze biochemical reactions without altering the reaction equilibrium and the activities of enzymes depend on the temperature, ionic conditions, and the pH of the surroundings.
h. Students know most macromolecules (polysaccharides, nucleic acids, proteins, lipids) in cells and organisms are synthesized from a small collection of simple precursors.

Grades 9-12 Chemistry
Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry
10. The bonding characteristics of carbon allow the formation of many different organic molecules of varied sizes, shapes, and chemical properties and provide the biochemical basis of life. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know large molecules (polymers), such as proteins, nucleic acids, and starch, are formed by repetitive combinations of simple subunits.
b. Students know the bonding characteristics of carbon that result in the formation of a large variety of structures ranging from simple hydrocarbons to complex polymers and biological molecules.
c. Students know amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

All Grades
Investigation and Experimentation
7. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
a. Select and use appropriate tools and technology (including calculators, computers, balances, spring scales, microscopes, and binoculars) to perform tests, collect data, and display data.
e. Communicate the steps and results from an investigation in written reports and oral presentations.