Mars: 14 Years of Discoveries

Designed to last 90 days, Opportunity survived for over a decade on Mars. Here
we look back on how the record-breaking rover changed the way we see the Red Planet.

Age Range: 14 years +
Prep. Time: 0 mins
Lesson Time: N/A
Cost per activity: N/A
Includes the use of: PDF Reader or colour printing

This 9-page feature from All About Space magazine explores the objectives and explorations of Opportunity through the 5353 Sols it spent on Mars.


10 Wonders of Mars

First time on Mars? Join us as we tour some of the biggest, strangest
and most fascinating wonders the Red Planet has to behold!

Age Range: 14 years +
Prep. Time: 0 mins
Lesson Time: N/A
Cost per activity: N/A
Includes the use of: PDF Reader or colour printing

Author: Ben Biggs and Giles Sparrow

This 13-page feature from All About Space magazine explores 10 Wonders of Mars including the ‘Grand Canyon of Mars’ Valles Marineris, super volcano Olympus Mons, and crater Hellas Planitia – which is so big it is visible from Earth!


How to identify a meteorite?

Did you find a curious looking rock? With the help of these instructions you can investigate if it could be a meteorite (or a meteowrong!). You can also go outdoors and pick any rock for investigation. Or how about hunting micrometeorites?

This material is also available in:

Keywords: meteorite, micrometeorite, small solar system bodies

Simulating asteroid rotation

This activity allows you to create the “rotation lightcurve” of an object, matching the approach that astronomers use when trying to determine the rotation rate of an asteroid.

The original version of this activity used a potato as the “asteroid”, so it is sometimes referred to as the “Rotato Experiment”!

Asteroid Itokawa resembles a large rubble pile, rather than being a solid piece of rock. The surface features will reflect different amounts of light as it rotates, causing it to appear brighter and fainter at different points in it’s rotation as viewed from Earth.

Classification of the Universe

In this activity, the students will learn different ways of roughly separating the features of observable structures in the universe and will gain the tools needed for identifying what kinds of objects they can observe through telescopes when visiting the observatory. 


Children of the Stars

Have you ever wondered what your body is made of? Or how much of each element you contain? Use this calculator to find out! Every element you contain that is heavier than hydrogen and helium was created over billions of years during the various developmental stages of stars. So we are made of star stuff!

This material is also available in:

Keywords: elements, stellar evolution, human body

Exoplanet databases

There are many online data archives about exoplanets, so here we have gathered together some of the better ones. Most of these will provide you with up-to-date information on the current status of exoplanet discoveries, including new results from the NASA TESS mission.

NASA Exoplanet Archive: This is a very up-to-date and comprehensive data archive as you would expect from NASA. It is very detailed and not aimed at educational use, but provides access to a huge amount of data and data analysis tools.

“The NASA Exoplanet Archive is an online astronomical exoplanet catalog and data service that collects and serves public data that support the search for and characterization of extra-solar planets and their host stars.” (Wikipedia)

Level: High school (ages 16+); University

Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia: A European site, available in several other languages (including Arabic, Russian and Japanese). Easier to use than the NASA data archive, but still without any educational materials.

Level: High School; University

Open Exoplanet Catalogue: This catalogue does not seem to be updated as often as the previous ones, but the display is easier to understand, and the designers have set out to provide tools to allow users to work on data using their own code.

There is also an iPhone app version, and Python scripts to help analyse the data in the archive.

“The Open Exoplanet Catalogue is a catalogue of all discovered extra-solar planets. It is a new kind of astronomical database. It is decentralized and completely open. We welcome contributions and corrections from both professional astronomers and the general public.” (OEC website)

Level: High school; University

Exoplanet Transit Database: This site is invaluable if you want to observe transiting exoplanets as it can predict when known systems will undergo transit events and also help you fit the lightcurves. It contains a large archive of transit lightcurves, rated by quality.

” ETD is here to supply quickly and easily the list of all ever observed transits of transiting exoplanets to observers and researchers.

Our database administrators are periodically checking for new transits – both in literature and in on-line internet sources. Each transit is stored with complete citations, link to the paper / on-line source URL.”

Level: High school; university

The PHL Exoplanet catalog: Maintained by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL), this database is unique in that it also includes information on astrobiological parameters.

” The PHL’s Exoplanets Catalog (PHL-EC) contains observed and modeled parameters for all currently confirmed exoplanets derived from the NASA Exoplanet Archive, including those potentially habitable. The main difference between PHL-EC and other exoplanets databases is that it contains estimated parameters, habitability assessments, and planetary classifications.”

Level: High school; University

Introduction to stellar evolution

“Stars are much like humans. They are born, live their lives and die.” Ilgmars Eglitis, astronomer

Observing the spectra of stars allows us to look deep into their origin and characteristics. A large catalog of star spectra exists at Baldone Observatory in Latvia, which is being made available online this year.

In the picture above, each horizontal “line” is the raw spectrum of one star. These are investigated with simple graphical tools, allowing us to determine each stars characteristics, origin and evolutionary state.

More educational material will appear on these pages over time. So far, you can play with this Black Body radiation calculator.

Baldone observatory, Latvia
A lot of details are hidden in the spectra of stars. To study them, even using just a fraction of the techniques and theory available to professional astronomers, allows us to identify the spectral type of stars, their current age and evolutionary state. For simplicity, we model stars as being Black Bodies, so simulations like this can help us understand the light output of stars of different temperatures.
Black body radiation spectrum generated using the online simulator.
The user interface from the online simulator.

Stars are born in huge clouds of gas and dust, such as those seen below in images obtained from the Faulkes Telescope Project.

Stars can die in a number of ways, but the more massive stars (maybe those 10 times or more massive than our Sun) explode in spectacular supernovae, such as those seen in the images below.