Mission to Mars, or, Where does this gravel come from?

Photo of Mars rover Curiosity's surroundings, August 6, 2012

08.06.2012 Curiosity’s Surroundings, NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Where does this gravel come from?” is a question that you can ask about many places in the solar system—in the dirt on the playground and in the Gale Crater on Mars, now that the NASA Mars rover Curiosity has landed. Your playground gravel might have been dug up by the children or delivered by truck. Either way, children can think about where it was before they found it and how it got there. Or maybe the class can go on a fieldtrip to where there is a lot of gravel along a creek or on a beach. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s successful landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars allows our wonderings to expand beyond our world:

“Curiosity’s landing site is beginning to come into focus,” said John Grotzinger, project manager of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “In the image, we are looking to the northwest. What you see on the horizon is the rim of Gale Crater. In the foreground, you can see a gravel field. The question is, where does this gravel come from? It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars.”

Older students might like to see a photograph of the roomful of people who guided the NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through its entry, descent and landing on Mars.

Child digging in the dirtI wonder what early science and engineering experiences the NASA scientists and engineers had, those who designed Curiosity, the system that got it to Mars, and the experiments it will carry out on Mars. Did they get to dig in the dirt and wonder where the pebbles came from?

What scientific questions will your students explore this year?

Peggy

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One Comment

  1. Gail Laubenthal
    Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    This is such a timely blog post. When I saw Curiosity land and the excitement break out, I was not thinking of what it might be finding. But now that you have asked the question, perhaps that will be a good one to start our year off, too. We do have one playground on our campus that is covered in pea gravel…those tiny, colorful pebbles that the children love to sift through, as they look for just the right one, which usually turns out to be a crystal rock. I am already beginning the year with rocks in my science center…rocks to wash, rocks to sort, rocks to order from small to large, rocks to weigh, rocks to measure, and rocks to compare by properties. What if I started the year off by walking to the pea gravel playground and asked the question, “Where do you think all of these rocks came from?”…the perfect open-ended science inquiry question to begin a rock-focused year! Thanks…by the way, my rock hound buddy, Diana and I, are going to Inks Lake State Park on Saturday to explore rocks on Saturday. One of them is said to be one of the oldest rocks on earth!

One Trackback

  • By More Curiosity Classroom Connections « Impact on August 13, 2012 at 10:31 am

    [...] In last week’s post, I wrote about some ways that teachers might incorporate the Mars rover Curiosity into their classrooms. Writing for NSTA’s blog, Peggy Ashbrook has additional ideas. [...]

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