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Geometry and Angle Relationships

Searching for Life on Mars

Objectives: Students will learn about the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and the Curiosity Rover through reading a NASA press release and viewing a NASA eClips video segment. Then students will use the Pythagorean Theorem to determine distance between a series of hypothetical exploration sites within Gale Crater on Mars.

Mathematics Skill or Topic Area:

Geometry and Angle Relationships

Next Gen Science Standards ESS1: Earth’s Place in the Universe; ETS2: Links Among Engineering, Technology, Science, and Society

Common Core ELA for Science: RST.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.RST.6-8.8. Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text. RST.6-8.9. Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.

Common Core Math Standard: CC.8.G.5: Use informal arguments to establish facts about the angle sum and exterior angle of triangles, about the angles created when parallel lines are cut by a transversal, and the angle-angle criterion for similarity of triangles. CC.8.G.7: Apply the Pythagorean Theorem to determine unknown side lengths in right triangles in real-world and mathematical problems in two and three dimensions.

Video Engagement: Curiosity Goes to Mars Find out why Curiosity is the best name for the largest rover ever sent to another planet. Learn about the challenges of landing on a planet with an atmosphere and the geology and chemistry questions scientists hope to answer with instruments on the Mars Science Laboratory (6 minutes). View Program

Engage your students with a press release:

At 10:31 p.m. PDT, April 27, (1:31 a.m. EDT, April 28), NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, carrying the one-ton Curiosity rover, will be within 100 days from its appointment with the Martian surface. At that moment, the mission has about 119 million miles (191 million kilometers) to go and is closing at a speed of 13,000 mph (21,000 kilometers per hour).

"Every day is one day closer to the most challenging part of this mission," said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Landing an SUV-sized vehicle next to the side of a mountain 85 million miles from home is always stimulating. Our engineering and science teams continue their preparations for that big day and the surface operations to follow."

On Sunday, April 22, a week-long operational readiness test concluded at JPL. The test simulated aspects of the mission's early surface operations. Mission planners and engineers sent some of the same commands they will send to the real Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars to a test rover used at JPL.

"Our test rover has a central computer identical to Curiosity's currently on its way to Mars," said Eric Aguilar, the mission's engineering test lead at JPL. "We ran all our commands through it and watched to make sure it drove, took pictures and collected samples as expected by the mission planners. It was a great test and gave us a lot of confidence moving forward."

The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, launched Nov. 26, 2011, will deliver Curiosity to the surface of Mars on the evening of Aug. 5, 2012, PDT (early on Aug. 6, Universal Time and EDT) to begin a two-year prime mission. Curiosity's landing site is near the base of a mountain inside Gale Crater, near the Martian equator. Researchers plan to use Curiosity to study layers in the mountain that hold evidence about wet environments of early Mars.

Press release date line - April 27, 2012

Press release location: [ Click Here ]

Explore math connections with


Problem I - Taking a Stroll Around a Martian Crater - Students determine the circumference of a martian crater and calculate the time it would take for the Opportunity Rover to travel one complete circuit around the crater. [ Open PDF ]

Problem II - Exploring the Mars Rover Landing Site Near Bonneville Crater - Students determine the scale of the photograph showing the Mars Rover landing area and calculate the sizes and lengths of various features in the image. [ Open PDF ]

Explain your thinking:

Write your own problem - Using information found in the Math Connection problems, the press release or the video program, create your own math problem. Explain why you set the problem up this way, and how you might find its answer.

Evaluate your understanding:

Challenge Problem - - The $2.5 billion Curiosity Rover will spend 2 years roaming the floor of Crater Gale at a top speed of 300 meters per hour. This crater has many important geological features that could include signs of fossil life that once existed here some 3 billion years ago. In this problem, students calculate the distances between interesting features, and determine the time the Rover will travel between the features as part of its 2-year timeline of activity. Students use satellite photo of the Mars Curiosity Rover's landing area and use coordinate geometry and the Pythagorean Theorem to compute distances to important way stations along the Rover's planned travels as it explores the floor of Crater Gale. [ Open PDF ]



3-D Solar System

Extend your new knowledge - Visit Mars using EOSS and the approach of the MSL spacecraft during its last 30 minutes of flight. [ Open PDF ]