The Red Planet: Learning about Mars Missions

By: Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator, Community Development & STEM, Pickaway County

Access the Red Planet: learning about Mars Missions presentation here.

Students learned about the Red Planet and the history of Mars exploration that date back to the early 1960s. We saw the first close-up photographs of Mars lunar-type impact craters in 1964 from NASA’s Mariner 4 and started studying its solar winds. Six decades later we are witnessing another phase of global exploration of Mars. Last July 2020 approximately 7 months ago three spacecraft launched to Mars.

Why did they all launch around the same time?

Launches to Mars are best attempted every 26-months when our two planets align in their orbits for the shortest trip.

February’s Mars Missions

The first mission to reach Mars was the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Hope Mission. The country has never launched a mission beyond Earth’s orbit before and hopes to drive a new economy around science and not oil. Hope’s pro entered Mars’ orbit on February 9, 2021, and will stay in orbit between 12,430 and 26,700 miles above the surface, completing a revolution of Mars once every 55-hours studying the atmosphere of Mars and the AMrtian weather.

UAE photo source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathanocallaghan/2020/07/13/the-united-arab-emirates-is-about-to-launch-its-first-ever-mission-to-mars/?sh=15af8fbd3a60

The second interplanetary mission to reach Mars came from China’s Tianwen-1 (Heavenly Questions) robotic spacecraft consisting of an orbiter, deployable camera, lander, and rover. The spacecraft entered Mars’ orbit on February 10, 2021. China may become the third nation to reach the surface of Mars! The science objectives its mission hopes to achieve:

  • create a geological map of Mars
  • explore the characteristics of the soil and potentially locate water-ice deposits
  • analyze the surface material composition
  • investigate the atmosphere and climate at the surface
  • understand the electromagnetic and gravitational fields of the planet

Photo sources: https://www.cnet.com/news/chinas-tianwen-1-mars-mission-is-arriving-at-the-red-planet-what-you-need-to-know/ and https://www.cnet.com/news/chinas-tianwen-1-mars-mission-is-arriving-at-the-red-planet-what-you-need-to-know/

The NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover landed in Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021, and will search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance NASA’s quest to explore the past habitability of Mars. The rover has a drill to collect core samples of Martian rock and soil, then store them in sealed tubes for pickup by a future mission that would ferry them back to Earth for detailed analysis.

Perseverance will also test technologies to help pave the way for future human exploration of Mars, including deploying the first Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, a technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars.

Earth Benefits from Space Exploration

Private companies and government space programs are shaping the future of space exploration. The research and engineering effects going into these missions have a direct benefit to Earth as many of the technologies and uses can also be applied here on Earth. Read this Culture Trip article, The Earthly Benefits of a Mission to Mars, to learn more.

Hands-on Virtual Mars Base Camp Challenges

Each club member received Mars Base Camp Kit and together we explored Mars challenges together virtually through Zoom. The Landing Zone Surveyor challenge allows youth to discover features on the surface of Mars that are important, selecting a safe landing site, learning about the Martian landscape, and determine where to set up a future base camp.

NASA lives and breaths the engineering design process. There have been over a dozen surface landing attempts to land on the surface of Mars, but with each attempt, a learning process occurs through the successes, failures, and re-engineering for future space missions.

Image from Planetary.org

Together we all dropped parachutes onto a grided Mars surface. This involved some skills and unknown variables in the parachute deployment. There were several possible outcomes, some failures, and some successful rover landings.

Together we identifying the different landing sites both visually through photographs and imagery. We shared reading out loud the associated landing site cards and gained a better understanding of the varied Martian landscape. We learned a lot of essential geography terms, such as channel, dune, fault, ice cap, impact crater, lander, lava flow, orbiter, remote sensing, rover, and volcano, and learned how they compared to the geography of Earth.

STEM club member participating virtually in Landing Zone Surveyor Challenge

The second Mars challenged we tackled was the Red Planet Odyssey. This activity involved learning more about simple circuits, simple motors, power, mechanical gears, and how they all work together with using the engineering design process to build a STEM rover and solve basic mechanical problems.

Bowling Green State University Scholar Shares Her Research Experience

By: Allison Cheek of Bowling Green State University, Candidate of Math and Science Education

Research Experience

This past fall, I was an incoming college freshman and I was told I would be participating in a research group. As a scholar of Bowling Green State University’s Science and Math in ACTION Program, I was allowed to participate in a research group. Research is part of our first-year requirements in the program. I thought that was very intimidating, having to conduct research with a team, as well as moving to a college campus and beginning college classes for the first time. Reflecting over this past year, I could not have been more wrong about being a part of a research group! Being on a research team has been an enlightening and satisfying experience. 

Illustration: an urban heat island. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech, https://climatekids.nasa.gov/heat-islands/

Research Focus: Urban Heat Island

I joined a research group that focused on finding the hottest and coolest places on Bowling Green State University’s campus. Bowling Green is part of an urban heat island. An urban heat island occurs when the temperature is higher in a city than the surrounding rural areas because there are so many man-made structures in one place, such as asphalt parking lots, buildings, concrete structures, and cars. 

Camera Technology

My group and I wanted to find the hottest places on campus and find ways to cool the temperature on campus. We collected data each week at twelve locations throughout campus. Five locations were natural, such as; ponds, grass, and green roofs. Seven locations were man-made, such as roofs and asphalt parking lots. At each location, we recorded the air temperature and surface temperature by using infrared thermometers, as well as FLIR thermal cameras

FLIR T540 Professional Thermal Camera, photo credit: https://www.flir.com/

Roofing Systems

After collecting data for eight weeks, we concluded that the parking lots and roofs on campus had the hottest temperatures. After extensive research, we found that solutions to lower the temperatures on Bowling Green’s campus are to plant trees and vegetation, as well as implement green roofs and stone roofs. 

Green and stone roof systems diagrams, credits: http://www.coninnco.com/building-envelope/dow-building-solutions/inverted-roof-systems, http://godfreyroofing.com/commercial/education/roofing-articles/introduction-to-green-roofing/

Solutions

Using our conclusive solutions, we wrote a Green Fund Grant Proposal to BGSU to implement stone roofs to coat the roof of a dorm with no air conditioning, to cool temperatures. 

 

Graph 1: Natural vs. Man-made Surface Temperature and Air Temperatures created by Allison Cheek and an aerial image of McDonald Hall’s proposed roof site, at Bowling Green State University.

Seek Out Researching Opportunities

Being part of this research team was extremely rewarding for me. We were able to collect data, collaborate ideas, and attempt to implement a solution to cooling BGSU’s campus. I have seen the scientific method come to life with the process of research. Being able to participate in research at a university has been a wonderful experience and I would highly recommend participating in exploration if given the opportunity. This experience has helped me apply my scientific knowledge and make a difference by improving Bowling Green’s campus.

I am grateful to the ACTION Program and to my research advisor, Dr. Jodi Haney, for making this opportunity possible!

Photo: Left Allison Cheek, right Alyson Blunk, research students at BGSU.

 

Chem Basics and Career Exploration

By: Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator

Last month our young STEMists tacked chemistry basics, the periodic table, what makes up an atom, and chemical and physical changes. (Note: 360-video @ the end of the post!)

DAY 1

The students started the club session with an interactive presentation highlighting several careers in chemistry. All the careers mentioned have a short career highlight video to provide good visualizes of what the jobs entail, as well as how much additional education is expected. The students also learned the differences between credentials, such as an Associate Degree, a Bachler’s, a Master’s, and having a PhD. We were only able to allow the kids to pick five or six careers during the club, so please sit down and re-explore the interactive presentation with your child at home!

Figure 1: Image from the program presentation by Meghan Thoreau, go.osu.edu/chemistrycareers.

They learned about atoms, which is made up of three tiny kinds of particles called subatomic particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons. The protons and the neutrons make up the center of the atom called the nucleus and the electrons fly around above the nucleus in a small cloud.

Figure 2: Photo by Meghan Thoreau captures one of Ms. Walley’s many chemistry wearables. The sweater shirt depicts the element Helium. Helium’s atomic parts are pictures to the right.

Figure 3: the periodic table.

The students then began exploring the periodic table and how elements are organized and what different forms the elements exist at room temperature. They further familiarized themselves by playing a couple of games: Element Scrabble, spelling words with the element’s symbols and Periodic Table Battleship, strategically call out the period, the group, and the name of each element to sink their opponent’s ships.

Figure 4: Photos by Meghan Thoreau depicting element scrabble and periodic battleship learning games.

DAY 2

Students applied what they learned from Day 1 about chemical and physical changes to the hands-on chem labs. They learned that chemical changes have certain indicators: change in color, gas produced, temperature change, light produced, precipitate forms, or are irreversible.

The students broke up into groups and did a series of chemical experiments to see first hand what chemical changes look, feel, and smell like.

Figure 5: video highlight of STEM Club: Chem Basics by Meghan Thoreau produced in iMovies. Retrieve from: https://youtu.be/peZvyjRWB9s.

If slime is still permitted in your household and you’re looking for a Super Fluffy Slime Recipe try this:

  1. put 3 cups shaving cream in a bowl
  2. Add in 1/4-1/2 tsp of baking soda and stir
  3. Mix in 1/2 cup of glue and stir
  4. Add 1 full tbsp of saline solution and a coating on hands
  5. Mix until mixture forms a fluffy slimeball

Next month Dr. Brooke Beam, OSU Extension Educator from Highland County will lead us into learning about 360 technology and video and photo production. The students will be exposed to 360 educational VR experiences for an immersive learning adventure. Testing out the new 360 camera, here’s a clip below:

Figure 6: 360 short video highlight of STEM Club: Chem Basics by Meghan Thoreau produced in GoPro. Retrieve from: https://youtu.be/6JUQny_TdPI.