What's Going On?

Martian waves

Activity overview

15 mins
Ages 7 – 9

Science topics:

Sound

Spark a conversation with this video showing that sounds can be heard on Mars. This activity is great for describing observations and applying ideas in unfamiliar contexts.

Run the activity

1. You’re going to watch a short video. The aim isn't to find right answers, it's to explore ideas and find out what they know.

  • Do they know what might happen based on the image?

2. After you’ve watched the video, lead a discussion with your class:

  • Can you describe the sound you can hear?
  • What do you think that sound is?
  • If you can hear the wind on Mars, what must be there so that sound can travel?

3. Ask the class to describe what they saw using only one word.

Background science

Missions to Mars, such as ESA’s Exomars rover or NASA’s InSight lander, take all sorts of equipment for measuring different quantities on the Martian surface. These measurements are sent back to Earth to help us learn more about the planet. Sometimes the missions measure surprising events that scientists weren’t expecting to see (or hear). For example, NASA’s InSight lander was sent to the planet to investigate vibrations in the ground, and its sensitive equipment accidentally measured the vibrations of the Martian wind blowing across the solar panels.

Children learning about sound will be aware that it needs something to travel through. They will know that here on Earth, sounds can travel through the air. The fact that they can hear the wind on Mars tells them that there must be some sort of air on Mars. It may not be the same as the air here on Earth, but there is definitely a gas above the Martian surface.

The instrument that was used to record and measure these vibrations is meant to measure the vibrations from ‘Marsquakes’, the name given earthquake-like activity on Mars. Earthquakes are caused by vibrations in the Earth’s crust. These vibrations will cause sounds to travel through the air, but often those sounds are a much lower frequency than the human hearing range so we don’t hear them.

 

The 2022 ExoMars mission is looking for signs of life on Mars. We've got lots of activities to support your own Mars exploration. Read more on our blog! 

Take it further

Encourage the children to think more about sounds and how they're made with the Problem Solver What’s that sound? Help children to visualise sound with Sound of Silence and Rice and Rhythm.

Investigate the sound of the wind. Children can carry out a range of practical investigations to find out what factors affect the volume and pitch of sounds from moving air. Check out these simple practical ideas from the Institute of Physics, Marvin and Milo collection: Loud lollies and Sound of gas

Video credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech via NASA CC BY 4.0

Audio credit: More Audible Sounds from InSight's Seismometer on Mars by NASA/JPL-Caltech