Exploring Mars with the Library

This is a guest post by Megan White, Visitor Services Specialist at the Library. 

An illustration of the planet Mars on a black background.

The planet Mars, observed September 3, 1877, at 11h. 55m. P.M.; Prints and Photographs Division

This post goes out to a particular audience near and dear to my heart: parents of young space enthusiasts, especially those who are attentively keeping track of the NASA helicopter Ingenuity’s flight on Mars. Here are some Martian artifacts to add to your research stations:

Start with the webcast “Swimming in Martian Lakes: Curiosity at Gale Carter.”  In this talk, NASA’s Scott Guzewich discusses the history of exploration on Mars, focusing mainly on the five-year effort to explore the remnants of an ancient lake with the Curiosity rover. The Curiosity rover found the first definitive evidence that Mars was once habitable for life as we know it. Guzewich is a talented scientist who is fantastic at breaking things down into easy to understand terms, and he regularly works with school groups. If your astronaut-to-be understands the terms “atmosphere” and “geologist,” they’re good to go for comprehending this talk, although you might want to break it up into two sessions.

Map of the surface of Mars with six circular insets

Mars : MEC-1 Prototype; Aeronautical Chart and Information Center; Geography and Map Division

In the talk, Guzewich mentions some of the earliest depictions of Mars were drawings of what astronomers thought might exist on mars after observing the planet through relatively rudimentary telescopes. We have a few examples of these drawings in our collections, including this one of Mars. After listening to Guzewich’s talk, can you guess what weather phenomenon is depicted in this image?

You can also check out this map of Mars, which was published in 1965, probably timed with the Mariner 4 Mission, which sent the first fly-by image of Mars back to Earth. Despite being made centuries later, the map was created using a technique not that dissimilar from the image above. It was compiled from many drawings made by Percival Lowell and E.C. Sclipher using the telescopes at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ.

It wasn’t until the Viking landers arrived on Mars in 1975 and 1976 that we were able to see a more detailed image of the surface of the planet. Here are some interesting montages made from photographs taken by the Viking landers and orbiters.

Images of the rocky surface of Mars

Montage of aerial views of Mars…1976; Prints and Photographs Division

Next up? Keep up with Perseverance, and learn about some of the research NASA is doing to prepare for a human mission to Mars! Watch this engaging interview with Kate Green, science journalist and author of “Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars,” to hear a first-hand account about living in a geodesic dome on the side of Mauna Loa in Hawaii as part of NASA’s research about psychological well-being during long-term space missions. If you are a teacher, you can also use these discussion prompts from an earlier blog post written by my colleague and fellow space enthusiast, Sasha Dowdy, to guide your students in imagining a human community on Mars. Until next time, happy exploring!

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