Mars Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about the planet Mars. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Mars. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Help children explore the universe without going into space! Before beginning the Mars topic, you may want to play the Solar System movie for a review and overview of the planets. This movie will introduce Mars and explore its topography and atmosphere. It will also investigate signs of water found on the planet and their implications.

Remind children that Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in our Solar System. It is often called the “Red Planet” because of the iron oxide found in its terrain that gives it a reddish, rusty appearance. Help children draw comparisons between Earth and Mars. Point out that Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, while Earth only has one. Mars is about half the diameter of Earth and about one-ninth of its mass. Mars, like Earth, has a variety of landforms on its surface, such as canyons, plains, valleys, mountains, and inactive volcanoes. Mars’ Olympus Mons is a large volcanic mountain that is about three times taller than Mount Everest. Valles Marineris is a system of Martian canyons that is one of the biggest canyons in our entire Solar System.

Mars is farther from the Sun than Earth, so it receives less solar energy. This is one reason why Mars can get very, very cold, with surface temperatures reaching −87 °C (−125 °F) during the winters and −5 °C (23 °F) in summers. It’s important to note that distance from the Sun is not the only contributing factor to the average temperature of a planet. Atmosphere is also an important factor. Venus, which is farther than both Earth and Mars from the Sun, is actually the hottest planet because of its atmosphere. Mars, on the other hand, is a cold, dry place. Explain to children that it does not rain on Mars, but it can get very, very windy. Dust storms on Mars can last for weeks or even months.

Mars’ atmosphere is made of about 95% carbon dioxide, whereas Earth’s atmosphere is a mixture of different gases. In some places on Mars, carbon dioxide is frozen into an icy solid. We can see ice caps on the planet in satellite images. It is important for children to understand that Mars does not have enough oxygen for us to breathe.

Since Mars has less mass than Earth, the surface gravity on Mars is less than the surface gravity on Earth. The surface gravity on Mars is roughly 38% of the surface gravity here, so a person who weighs 100 pounds on Earth would weigh only 38 pounds on Mars. You may want to explore this concept further by screening the Gravity movie.

We know much about Mars because scientists have been studying and observing the planet for centuries. We can use telescopes to observe Mars and scientists are launching spacecraft to get a closer look at the planet. Some spacecraft, such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, orbits the planet and uses special tools to look for signs of water and collect information about the weather. It takes pictures of the surface so we can get a closer look and track changes in the environment. Vehicles call rovers explore the planet’s surface. Part of their mission is to look for signs of water. The Mars Curiosity is a rover that launched in 2012 and has a traveling laboratory to study samples. Explain to children that living things are often found in and around water and scientists are looking for an environment that could be friendly for life. Scientists have not found any Martians, but there is evidence of bacteria that might have been present on the planet.

Explain to children that Mars does have water, but most of it is frozen. A Mars rover found frozen water underground, and evidence in the surface shows that liquid water might have once been present on the planet. Mars has dried channels that look much like dried channels found on Earth and there are trails that were probably left behind by flowing water. There is even topographical evidence of dried oceans on Mars. Help children understand that we can compare land on Mars and Earth to help us understand the history of both planets. There’s still a lot to learn about Mars, but scientists constantly collect information about the planet.

Help children explore the universe! Encourage them to learn more about the bodies in our Solar System and draw conclusions about life on other planets.