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Life on mars?

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Imaginative inquiry
Topic: Variation

Scientists say they have found the 'smoking gun' that convinces them they've found water ice on Mars. Chunks of bright material unearthed by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have vanished after around four days. The only explanation is that they vaporised when exposed to the Martian atmosphere.

So, maybe there was once - or is still - life on Mars. In this activity students study information about conditions on Mars and then create an imaginary Martian life form - what will its features be? How does its features help it to survive?

This 'topical' has been updated from the version originally published.

Published: 20th January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 8

Learning objectives

Learning objectives
What I'm looking for is for students to explain what Martian life might be like.
What I'm looking for is for students who can use their knowledge of adaptation to make sensible suggestions about life on Mars

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

11 - 14 (KS3)
Ecological relationships QCA 8d - animals and plants are adapted to ensure survival
Inheritance and survival QCA 9a - characteristics are influenced by environmental conditions
The solar system and beyond QCA 7L - differences between features of the Earth and Mars

Running the activity

This activity is designed to take about 20 minutes.
To start the activity, you could ask students what they have seen in the news about the current missions to Mars. Then ask them to discuss - which came first (on Earth) - plants or animals?
Page 1 sets the scene - Mars Express has found water on Mars, so maybe there could once have been life there. The 'photographic evidence' referred to are the pictures of the planet's topography: this shows cliffs and craters and the marks left on them by vanished watercourses.
Page 2 sets the task. It includes information about how life evolved on Earth as well as information about the conditions on Earth and Mars. This information should help students to plan their imaginary life forms. The temperature data is rather uncertain - different sources give very different values. The data selected indicates that some of the water on Mars could be liquid.
As a plenary, ask students to share their drawings and explain how the life forms' features will enable them to survive in Martian conditions. You could then try getting students to choose the best feature of each life form and make a composite life form!
Further possible discussion questions

Why is water needed for life?
Mars has low air pressure - how would this affect a human body?
What has happened to the water on Mars?

News links

Martian ice vaporising
Watch an animated gif of the ice vaporising, from the NewScientist website
Pheonix mars lander
Find out more about this mission to Mars' north polar region.

Media links

Video of Phoenix in action
This NASA video shows an overhead view of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander and the work area of the Robotic Arm.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Jan 6th, 2015

5 Star

Loved it for year 7 or older groups with lower ability.

I have also used this with younger pupils. Nice little exercise

Reviewer: Jo Hinds


Sep 18th, 2013

5 Star

This is a brillent activity

Reviewer: Charlene Gayle


Mar 14th, 2012

4 Star

Great to get them in the mindset for doing topics on space

Reviewer: David Roberts

Life on mars? review

Jan 10th, 2012

1 Star

Reviewer: Rushad Saklatwalla

life on mars

Feb 12th, 2011

5 Star

I used this to introduce the idea of group work to my Year 8 pupils in Bilingual Biology (Biology taught in English in Germany). It was a real hit - a novel lesson topic and a novel technique.

Reviewer: Rosalind Nieder

Life on mars? review

Dec 20th, 2010

2 Star

Reviewer: Stuart Briely

Life on Mars

Nov 16th, 2005

4 Star

Ran this activity with Yr 8 who had missed this topic in yr 7. They really liked it really got them thinking about what you would need to live in different climates.

Reviewer: vincent reed

This is now the second time...

Jan 28th, 2005

3 Star

...I've noticed incorrect information in your (otherwise excellent) activities.

I wrote you a while back about the incorrect spelling of Homo floresiensis.

With this 'Life on Mars' activity, you say "The temperature data is rather uncertain.....the data selected indicates that some of the water on Mars could be liquid".

No way. It is not possible for liquid water to exist on the surface of Mars because the atmosphere is 100 times thinner than Earth's!

All you need to do is run these activities by an 'expert' in that particualr field, and you will no longer be making these silly mistakes.

Yours faithfully

Mario Di Maggio

PS - I'm currently an astronomy educator at Thinktank Science Museum (Birmingham), and also do freelance work.

Reviewer: Mario Di Maggio