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Module: The Grand Canyon of Mars and How It Formed
Grades 6-12, Three Weeks
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Mars has many canyons and valleys, most of which were caused by the movement of the planet's crust. By examining these canyons and valleys, students gain insight into the processes that created them. Since the Grand Canyon of Mars is a rift valley and was not formed by water, this module focuses on processes that alter a planet's surface in the absence of flowing surface water such as uplift, slumping, sapping, and subsidence.

Canyons Activity 1: How Does Uplift Affect a Planet's Surface?

Purpose: Students use a corn starch-filled aluminum pan to examine how a planet's surface can become deformed and fractured by pressure from below the surface.

Key Concepts:
  • A planet's surface can be deformed by uplift.
  • Fracturing is one example of a surface change resulting from uplift.
  • The Martian surface has many prominent features resulting from uplift.
Canyons Activity 2: How Does the Flow of Groundwater Affect a Planet's Surface?

Purpose: Students use a sand-filled tray to investigate the effect that water flowing beneath the surface has on the surface.

Key Concepts:
  • Water can flow beneath the surface.
  • The flow of subsurface water can alter the appearance of the land above it.
  • Slumping is a landslide in which rocks and soil slide as a single unit.
  • Sapping is when groundwater breaks the surface and undermines rock and sediment, causing them to collapse. It can cause the progressive collapse of rocks and soil resulting in the headward retreat of a canyon.
  • The Martian surface has many prominent features resulting from the flow of subsurface water.
Canyons Activity 3: What Happens When Material Is Removed From Beneath a Surface?

Purpose: Students use sugar cubes (soluble) and dice (insoluble) to construct a "landscape" and investigate features such as sinkholes and karst landscapes that are created by subsidence.

Key Concepts:
  • Subsidence is the sinking of the ground surface due to the removal, dissolving or shrinkage of material below that ground surface.
  • Rocks dissolve slowly, such as over thousands, millions and billions of years.
  • The Martian surface has many prominent features resulting from subsidence.
Canyons Activity 4: How Did Valles Marineris Form?

Purpose: Students try to explain the formation of the largest, most complex rift valley on Mars by applying what they learned earlier in the module about processes that alter a planet's surface.

Key Concepts:
  • Valles Marineris is a network of valleys, each showing evidence of a variety of geological processes.
  • There are many competing hypotheses about the formation of Valles Marineris.
  • Valles Marineris is immense.
  • Each geologic process has its own signature, and these signatures can be observed in images and be used to piece together a story about the formation of Valles Marineris.
  • Features in Valles Marineris show evidence of uplift, rifting, slumping, sapping, and subsidence.
Canyons Activity 5: What Questions Has This Module Raised?

Purpose: Students articulate their Mars-related questions, identify specific information they need to answer those questions, and learn how to access that information.

Key Concepts:
  • The Mars Global Surveyor has specific mission objectives and instruments to achieve those objectives.
  • The mission objectives arise out of questions people have about Mars, and students are fully capable of generating questions worthy of future study.
  • The Mars Global Surveyor mission has a speific timetable, and students can follow the progress of the mission in a number of ways.

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