Humans have yet to stand on the surface of Mars, but zooming in on the red planet with NASA's billion-pixel interactive image is almost like being there. The new online interactive lets Earth-bound explorers zoom ultra close-in to the Martian surface, from more than 228 million miles away.
Clocking in at 1.3 billion pixels, the image's high resolution version combines nearly 900 photos—taken by NASA's Curiosity rover—in a mosaic of the planet's rocky, dusty details. (The photo shown here is one of Curiosity's lower resolution "self portraits.")
At Howtosmile.org, you can use color photographic images in the Earth and Mars activity to discover what's the same, and what's different, between geological formations on Earth and Mars. Compare large landforms including craters, canyons and volcanoes and discuss what forces shaped them on both planets. In the Lava Layering activity, work with baking soda, vinegar, and different colored play dough to model how boiling volcanic lava may have flowed on Mars. In the Ice on Mars activity, examine something quite different, using sand and ice cubes to create a model of Martian permafrost and the effects of ice melting through the planet's surface.
Want to expand on the theme of a mission to Mars? Try activities like Getting There: Navigation and Trajectory (plotting a spacecraft's course between Earth and Mars), Egg-cellent Landing (designing protection for an egg, just as scientists design protection for a rover landing on Mars), and Rover Races (practicing how to "tele-operate" a robotic vehicle on another planet). An excellent literature connection for advanced learners is Mary Roach's book Packing for Mars.