Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Red Planet Research

Look anywhere in the news lately, and you'll see that Mars is making a comeback.  There's the MRO and the recent Comet Siding Spring that made a close flyby of the red planet.  The India Space Research Organization has also recently launched their very own Mars orbiter.  So when I found out about the Mars Student Imaging Program out of Arizona State University, I thought to myself that this would be a great opportunity for my students to pursue their passion for exploring and researching space.   Completely student-driven inquiry tied in with authentic research and feedback from a planetary geologist - what could be better than this?  Plus, all culminating in two days at ASU on the campus working with the geologist and collecting their very own image from the THEMIS camera.  But, before the two-day culmination on campus, we had a big learning curve.  We had to first learn about Martian geology and learn about the features on this planet.  We also had to familiarize ourselves with the instruments used to collect images and data as well as the JMARS database.  In many ways, it was like learning about a whole new world and learning a foreign language.  But at the same time, it was also about taking what we know about our planet Earth and making connections and comparisons to what we already know and extending it to what we do not know.

Probably the most challenging part of the process was identifying our inquiry/research question.  With a group of 20 students and diverse interests, we had questions ranging from the craters to Olympus Mons to the Valles Marineris.  We ended up consulting with ASU and the planetary geologist who then gave us feedback and insight on our possible questions.  In the document attached, you will see not only our final question, but the research that accompanies it.  As you can tell, the process was full of reading, writing, researching, note-taking, summarizing, making inferences, drawing conclusions, collecting data, analyzing data...Wow.  What an amazing journey.  We have yet to experience our two days in person with scientists at ASU and I'm sure that will bring even more stories to tell.  
Here is the link to our research on Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system discovered so far.

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