Chapter 10 Earthlike Planets: Venus and Mars
Collaborative Group Activities
- Your group has been asked by high NASA officials to start planning the first human colony on Mars. Begin by making a list of what sorts of things humans would need to bring along to be able to survive for years on the surface of the red planet.
- As a publicity stunt, the mayor of Venus, Texas (there really is such a town), proposes that NASA fund a mission to Venus with humans on board. Clearly, the good mayor neglected to take an astronomy course in college. Have your group assemble a list of as many reasons as possible why it is unlikely that humans will soon land on the surface of Venus.
- Even if humans would have trouble surviving on the surface of Venus, this does not mean we could not learn a lot more about our veiled sister planet. Have your group brainstorm a series of missions (pretend cost is no object) that would provide us with more detailed information about Venus’ atmosphere, surface, and interior.
- Sometime late in the twenty-first century, when travel to Mars has become somewhat routine, a very wealthy couple asks you to plan a honeymoon tour of Mars that includes the most spectacular sights on the red planet. Constitute your group as the Percival Lowell Memorial Tourist Agency, and come up with a list of not-to-be missed tourist stops on Mars.
- In the popular book and film, called The Martian, the drama really begins when our hero is knocked over and loses consciousness as he is half buried by an intense wind storm on Mars. Given what you have learned about Mars’ atmosphere in this chapter, have your group discuss how realistic that scenario is. (By the way, the author of the book has himself genially acknowledged in interviews and talks that this is a reasonable question to ask.)
- Astronomers have been puzzled and annoyed about the extensive media publicity that was given the small group of “true believers” who claimed the “Face on Mars” was not a natural formation (see the Astronomy and Pseudoscience: The “Face on Mars” feature box). Have your group make a list of the reasons many of the media were so enchanted by this story. What do you think astronomers could or should do to get the skeptical, scientific perspective about such issues before the public?
- Your group is a special committee of scientists set up by the United Nations to specify how any Mars samples should be returned to Earth so that possible martian microbes do not harm Earth life. What precautions would you recommend, starting at Mars and going all the way to the labs that analyze the martian samples back on Earth?
- Have your group brainstorm about Mars in popular culture. How many movies, songs or other music, and products can you think of connected with Mars? What are some reasons that Mars would be a popular theme for filmmakers, songwriters, and product designers?