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What Can Craters Tell Us About a Planet?
Grades 6-12, Three to Four Days

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To learn some basic concepts about craters on Mars using three investigative techniques: image interpretation, modeling, and Mars-Earth comparisons.

Students examine images of Martian craters and speculate about what caused them. Next, they model the formation of an impact crater by dropping objects into a tray of powder. They examine the effects of each impact and the features each impact creates. Students re-examine the images of the Martian craters to see if their modeling experience gives them additional insights. They create hypotheses to try to explain a feature not seen in their models, a mud-flow-like ejecta blanket. Students write a plan to test one of the hypotheses and carry out their investigation. Finally, students apply their modeling experiences by making several inferences.

Key Concepts

  • Impact craters are caused when a bolide collides with a planet.
  • A crater's size and features depend on the mass and velocity of the bolide.
  • Impact craters provide insights into the age and geology of a plant's surface.
  • The Martian surface contains thousands of impact craters because, unlike Earth, Mars has a stable crust, low erosion rate, and no active sources so lava. So, impact craters on Mars are not obliterated as they are on Earth.


  • Interpreting images of craters
  • Comparing craters on Mars and Earth
  • Modeling geologic processes
  • Designing and conducting a Mars Ğrelated investigation
  • Collecting and interpreting data from a classroom experiment
  • Drawing conclusions and Making inferences


  • Image set
  • One tray per group such as a dish pan, pizza box or lid from copy paper box
  • Very fine, light and dark colored powders such as silica sand, flour, plaster, mortar powder or grout (comes in different colors), chocolate pudding, powdered cocoa, powder charcoal or corn meal
  • Bolides of various sizes such as golf balls and small rocks (1-4 cm.)
  • Sieve, large spoon or cheese cloth to sprinkle the dark powder
  • Meter stick or string to measure the two-meter dropping height
  • Balance
  • Card or ruler to smooth the surface of the powder
  • Newspaper or drop clothes
  • Large sheets of paper to record ideas from the class discussions.

Day 1: Steps 1-7
Homework Step 8
Day 2 Steps 9-11
Day 3 Step 12
Homework Step 13-14

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