Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Mars Rover, "Curiosity"

Based on astronomical observations, it appears that certain regions on Mars are releasing large amounts of methane gas on a seasonal cycle. Scientists want to know if this gas is a product of biological processes or a result of geologic activity. To find out, NASA is sending a robotic rover called Curiosity to Mars. With 10 different science instruments, Curiosity will be able to investigate if Mars has the chemical ingredients for life. This video clip from NOVA's program Finding Life Beyond Earth explores the questions that drive the scientists and the implications of possible findings. The Curiosity rover  is scheduled to launch November 25th, 2011.

Watch The Mars Rover, "Curiosity" on PBS. See more from NOVA.
Rover Image Courtesy of NASA
Video Clip from NOVA's Finding Life Beyond Earth Program
© 2011 WGBH Educational Foundation

Teachers, please feel free to use this video  in your classroom to share this exciting event and endeavor with your students. Also, please check out the Finding Life Beyond Earth Special Collection of educational resources on Teachers Domain for further related material.

Main Messages:
  • Scientists are using the current knowledge they have about Mars, combined with our understanding of the chemical ingredients for life, to explore whether there is, or ever has been, life on the Red Planet.
  • New observations of Mars reveal thousands of tons of methane gas coming out from “hot” spots on the planet’s surface every year. Scientists seek to explain this observed phenomenon on Mars and to determine if life existed or currently exists there.
  • Scientists use robotic technology to remotely gather data from Mars. NASA is using the rover Curiosity , an astrobiology lab on wheels, to search for organic molecules. The rover will grind, bake and use spectroscopic analysis on Martian rocks to reveal if the samples contain special organic molecules that could only exist if they were the product of living things.
Questions for your classroom
  1. What questions do scientists & researchers hope to answer with the Curiosity mission?
  2. What kind of evidence does the rover Curiosity need to gather to help answer these questions?
  3. What are some challenges to this mission? How is technology being used to address these challenges?
  4. What are the different ingredients for life discussed in the video?

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