Title: The Physics and Biology of Sports on Mars

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Theme: Science and Sports on Mars

Title: The Physics and Biology of Sports on Mars
Overview: Humans traveling to Mars. Scientists and engineers feel that it is not a matter of if, but when. One thing is certain though, the conditions that we will encounter will be nothing like we are used to. Now, imagine sports on Mars. Imagine a whole new set of playing rules based on a different planet. Baseballs would travel differently, shot puts would sail farther, and Frisbees might not even fly. This will be a whole new playing field.

Grade Level: 9-12
Subject Matter:

  • Physical Science

  • Physics

  • Biology

Duration: 4, 50-minute periods
National Standards Addressed:

Science as inquiry

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

Physical Science

  • Motion and forces

Life Science

  • Biological evolution

  • Interdependence of organisms

  • Matter, energy, and organization in living systems

Earth and Space Science

Science and Technology

  • Understanding about science and technology


By the end of the lesson, the students should be able to:

  • Identify the fundamental physical geographic differences between Earth and Mars.

  • Predict how sports would change when performed on Mars.

  • Identify that life once lived on Mars.

  • Describe at least one way that we will try to get plants to grow on Mars.

  • List the abiotic factors that we need to exist and play sports on Mars.


  • Whiteboards

  • Markers

  • Projector

  • Slide show program

  • Vacuum pump

  • Coin and feather demo (available at Arbor Scientific)

  • Bell Jar

  • Bell Jar with ringing bell

  • Beaker

  • Projector

  • Computer with speakers


  1. Hook

    1. Using the vacuum pump, remove the air from the coin and feather demo.

    2. Rotate the cylinder to show that objects fall to the Earth at the same rate when air resistance is not a factor.

    3. Describe how this would be on Mars if the atmosphere is a fraction to that of Earth’s.

    4. Next, obtain a bell jar, a ringing bell in a bell jar, and a beaker of water.

      1. First, attach the bell jar with the ringing bell, seal, and turn on the pump.

        1. Result: as the “atmosphere” is being pumped out of the bell jar, the sound of the ringing bell will get less and less.

        2. Point: lack of atmosphere does strange things especially to sound.

      2. Next, use the regular bell jar. Fill a beaker of water half full of water. Place on the vacuum pump’s platform. Place the bell jar over it and seal. Turn on the pump.

      3. Result: as the atmosphere is pumped out of the system, the water will begin to boil.

      4. Point: the water did not get hot. Boiling point is a balance between evaporation rate (vapor pressure) and atmospheric pressure. Without atmosphere to suppress the vapor, the water boils at a lower temperature i.e. different cooking instructions for high altitudes.

  1. Take a look at Mars

    1. Play the following videos to show the Martian terrain.



  1. Presentation of atmospheric conditions, weather, and soil.

    1. Create a slide show of illustrating and describing the atmospheric conditions and weather on Mars.

    2. Present the slide show to the class.

    3. Each slide has a “Result.” Assign each “result” for homework.

    4. Slide Show

      1. Title Slide

      2. What is Mars’ Atmosphere Like?

        1. Composition

          1. 95.3% CO2

          2. 2.7% N2

          3. 1.6 % Ar

          4. 0.13% O2

        2. Atmospheric Pressure

          1. Only 1% that of Earth’s atmospheric pressure. That means Earth’s atmospheric pressure is 100x’s stronger!

        3. Result 1: How will less atmosphere will affect the flight of each of the following:

          1. Baseballs

          2. Frisbees

          3. Airplanes

      3. Gravity on Mars

        1. Mars is smaller than Earth.

        2. Mars has less gravity than Earth.

          1. Mars has a little more than 1/3 less gravity on earth (38% less gravity).

          2. Or, Earth’s gravity is more than 3x’s stronger than Mars.

        3. Result 2: How does less gravity affect each of the following situations:

          1. Baseballs, footballs, basketballs falling back to the surface of Mars.

          2. Weigh-ins at a wrestling match.

          3. Weight lifting competition.

      4. Weather on Mars - 1

        1. Mars is constantly exposed to the harshest space weather. Why?

          1. No protective magnetic field to “bounce” off of electrified particles (fast moving protons and electrons) from the sun and space.

          2. Thin atmosphere will not absorb harmful energies from the sun. (Ultraviolet radiation, X-rays, gamma radiation)

          3. Result 3: If UV light is unfiltered as it enters Mars’ atmosphere, then how would an outdoor ice rink have to be adapted?

          4. Result 4: Could football games be played outdoors at night? Why/why not?

      5. Weather on Mars – 2

        1. Clouds are made of small bits of frozen water probably from the icy frozen poles.

        2. Humungous dust storms that can cover a small area to the whole planet!

        3. Scientists don’t really know how they start.

        4. These dust storms really heat the planet up. The dust particles get warmer from being closer to the sun and the dust traps heat against the surface of Mars.

        5. Result 5: How would this affect the game of golf?

    5. References







  1. Mars Sports – “Final Exam”

    1. This portion of the lesson will engage students by having them describe certain situations involving physical science and sports on Mars. All questions will be based on the presentation they just heard.

    2. The students will work in pairs to answer challenging questions based on Mars sports and physical science.

      1. The students will form groups of two.

      2. Each group will record their answers on a separate piece of paper. Only one paper is required per pair of students.

    3. Directions:

      1. Each group will answer by selecting the best answer (multiple choice) and describing why it is the correct answer.

      2. Each question is worth three points.

        1. One point for the correct answer.

        2. Two points for the correct explanation.

    4. Make a slide show of the following slides.

      1. Which organism would be best suited for the Martian atmosphere/ecosystem?

        1. Small mammals

        2. Pine trees

        3. Glacier tolerant bacteria

        4. Oceanic plankton

      2. If you are playing a game in a Martian arena. How would the announcer sound to you?

        1. Overwhelming loud

        2. Loud, just like here on Earth

        3. Soft and muffled

        4. Like a teeny, tiny whisper

      3. If you were golfing on Earth and you hit your drive 200 yards, how far could you hit your drive on Mars?

        1. Way, way beyond 200 yards

        2. Just about 200 yards

        3. Much shorter than 200 yards

        4. Exactly as you would hit on Earth

      4. Think about how a Frisbee travels on Earth. It is aerodynamic and seems to float as it flies. Assume you go to Mars and throw a Frisbee exactly like you would on Earth. What would you observe?

        1. The Frisbee would go much farther on Mars.

        2. The Frisbee would never land.

        3. The Frisbee would fly a few feet and hit the ground.

        4. The Frisbee would travel exactly how it did on Earth.

      5. Assume you are a competitive weight lifter. You can’t afford to train on Mars, so you train on Earth. The competition will take place on Mars. You get enough cash together to travel there to compete. Based on this, would you be at an advantage or a disadvantage?

        1. Advantage

        2. Disadvantage

        3. Not enough information was presented.

      6. You are a wrestler and you trained on Earth. What is probably the one thing you don’t have to worry about if you compete on Mars.

        1. “Making weight”

        2. Being able to handle Martian food

        3. Packing your bags

        4. Playing Frisbee!

      7. You are a Mars gymnast in a gym that has plenty of oxygen and nice temperatures. Which of the following conditions would directly affect your performance?

        1. Less gravity

        2. Thinner air

        3. Cold exterior temperature

        4. Dust storms

      8. If you were used to playing basketball on Earth, how would your shot be affected if you played on Mars? (Assume you are playing in conditions that could support human life)

        1. It would go farther.

        2. It would fall short of the basket

        3. The ball would freeze in mid-air.

        4. Your muscle memory would be gone after the long trip to Mars.

      9. Final Question: Watch the following video. Think about how this sport would be different if it took place on Mars. Your challenge: describe as many differences that you can. Record everything on your whiteboard. Let the teacher know when you are done. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yZWKGsmDmU

  1. Life on Mars

    1. OPTIONAL MATERIAL: This section will serve as brief background material.

    2. Was there ever evidence of life on Mars

      1. Show the video at: http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&source=hp&q=evidence+of+life+on+mars&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=yripSt3wOsGknQed-e2kDw&sa=X&oi=video_result_group&ct=title&resnum=9#

      2. While the video is playing have the students fill out the worksheet entitled “Was There Ever Life on Mars?”

      3. Go over answers and implications.

    3. Future Life

      1. Ask the class: “Will we ever live on Mars?”

        1. Listen to answers and discuss the problems that face humans namely lack of oxygen and water.

        2. Eventually lead them into the fact that plants can provide us with valuable resources like oxygen and water – they will live on Mars before us.

      2. Hand out the worksheet: “Will there be life on Mars?”

      3. Play the audio feed from the following website: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast01jun_1.htm

      4. Have the students answer the questions on worksheet.

      5. Go over the answer and implications.

      6. Follow up and segue into the next portion of the lesson.

        1. To ‘prove’ to the students everything they just discussed, play the short recording from

        2. POP #4254 “Astrobiology: Moving to Mars.”

        3. Wrap up this portion of the lesson.

  1. How does your body react to conditions in space? Have a class discussion.

    1. Make a slide show with the following suggested slides.

    2. Discuss with your students the challenges it would take just to get to Mars.

    3. Make a list on the board of all the challenges that stand in our way.

    4. Reveal the major challenges with the slide show.

    5. Slide Show

      1. Title Page: Let’s take a trip to Mars. The whole class is going!

      2. Slide 1: Time – clock

        1. It would take 8-9 months just to get to Mars. That’s almost the length of a school year?

      3. Slide 2: Muscles – somebody flexing

        1. Without gravity we would need to keep our muscles strong during a trip that long.

        2. What could we do?

          1. Therabands

          2. Isometrics

      4. Slide 3: Food

        1. Could we pack enough food?

        2. Would all that food weigh too much? Yes!

        3. How could we conquer this challenge?

      5. Slide 4: Waste

        1. How would we handle that much garbage and human waste for that long?

          1. How does NASA do it when they travel to the moon? http://www.slate.com/id/2192383/

  1. What would it take to play sports on Mars?

    1. Hand out the sheet entitled “What would it take to play sports on Mars?”

    2. Compare what we have on earth when we play sports and what we need to play sports on Mars. The objective is for the students to realize the abiotic factors that exist on Earth to play sports are not presently on Mars.

      1. The students should get in pairs.

      2. Together they will brainstorm all the stuff they need to play ANY sport on Earth.

        1. If needed, guide them toward the fact that they need more than just equipment to play sports – abiotic factors.

        2. Provide five minutes (more if needed).

      3. Ask each group to read off everything they wrote and make a huge list on the board.

        1. No need to duplicate responses.

        2. Supplement with the abiotic factors if they were not given as answers.

      4. Next, using the huge list on the board, have the groups list, on the blank side of their chart, the stuff they REALLY need to play sports on Mars.

      5. The answers are, of course, the abiotic factors.

      6. For homework:

        1. Assign the students to pick one of the challenges that were listed (lack of oxygen, temperature, lack of a sustainable atmosphere etc) and have them create a way that they would fix it.

        2. Discuss creations the next day.

Was There Ever Life on Mars?
Directions: Watch the video and answer the questions.

  1. When (date) was life discovered on Mars? _____________

  1. Dr. David McKay reported the discovery of fossilized ________________ on a 4-pound ____ billion year old Martian meteorite.

  1. Draw a picture of what the bacteria look like

  1. How do scientists know that the bacteria didn’t grow on Earth?

  1. What kind of environment did the Martian bacteria live in?

  1. The piece of Mars that hit Earth came from a large _______________ that hit Mars and flung chunks of Mars into space.

  1. Where was the meteorite found?

  1. Are the Martian bacteria similar to bacteria found on Earth? Which ones?

  1. Where there is ____________ there is life.

  1. Name two molecules that the scientists found on the Martian rock that are associated with living things.

  1. How old are these fossils? __________________

  1. How many other meteorites were found that have Martian bacteria on them? _______________

  1. Is there still evidence of water on Mars now? Describe it.

  1. What happened to all the Martian water?

  1. Is there a chance that Martian bacteria flew to Earth on meteors?

Will there be life on Mars?

Listen to the report from NASA and fill in the answers below.

  1. The type of organism that scientists are working on to help us explore Mars will be part _________________ and part ________________.

  1. ____________________ are genes that tell us about the conditions in which the plants are living in.

  1. What will these new plants do when they encounter problems?

  1. List three problems that these early “settlers” of Mars could encounter: 1) ________________________, 2) _____________________, 3) _____________________

  1. Plants can provide resources for future life (Humans!!) to live on Mars. List three of these important resources: 1) ______________________, 2) ______________________, 3) _______________________

  1. Describe how healthy plants will look.

  1. What does the “sensor side” of the gene do? What does the “reporter” side of the gene do?

  1. Plants are sessile. What does that mean?

  1. The first wave of plants sent would sprout inside a small protected ____________________. Calculate the area:______________. How heavy will it be: _________lbs.

What would it take to play sports on Mars?

Sports on Earth

Additional Resources
Web Sites
Kids Science Challenge – Scroll to Sports On Mars


“A Global Dust Storm Of Massive Proportions” (10/11/01) – Space.com


Special thanks to the following scientists for their help with this project:
Pulse of the Planet Programs: #4254 “Astrobiology: Moving to Mars.”

Lynn Rothschild


NASA Ames Research Center

Pulse of the Planet Programs: #4672 “Kids' Science Challenge: Mars - Sending an Arm”

Brett Kennedy

Senior Engineer

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Header Image

Name: Chunk of Mars

Credit: ESA

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