The two major themes of the exhibition are 1) Mars Exploration and 2) Earth-Mars Comparisons. These themes are introduced in this introductory area. The human story of Mars exploration is told in the Mars Theater video. Low tech and high tech components engage children and adults as they discover how Mars is similar to and different from Earth. For example, in the Hot & Cold Globes interactive, two copper hemispheres demonstrate the relative sizes of Earth and Mars and the differences in their surface temperatures. Visitors may touch the almost freezing Mars globe and compare it to Earth, which is cool at the pole and warm along the equator. Visitors can explore Mars weather in the What’s New on Mars? kiosk. Mars weather is ever changing with wispy dust devils that whirl across the surface and global dust storms that can engulf the planet. Observations of the red planet may also help us understand the climate of our own planet better.


This Martian canyon is as long as the continental United States. Components in this area explore valley formation and the use of scientific tools, such as a method for making three-dimensional images of Mars (Laser Altimeter). The Fog Basin interactive allows visitors to play with fog and at the same time learn that fog occurs on Mars, in canyons like Vallis Marineris and in large craters. Visitors can view a thin section of the Zagami meteorite under polarizing light. This is one of only a handful of meteorites that scientists believe came from Mars. It landed in Nigeria in 1982 after a 2 million year journey. Visitors learn about the most famous Mars meteorite, the one from the Alan Hills ice field, Antarctica. When scientists thought they had found evidence of fossilized bacteria in the meteorite (ALH 84001), the public’s attention was captured. Subsequent research is casting doubt on that initial conclusion; nonetheless, the public remains strongly interested in the search for life beyond Earth. The Mars Exploration Rovers have found signs of water, a key ingredient in our search for life. The search continues.


This is the largest area of the exhibit. While Mars is now dry, some of its features suggest that a flood once ravaged Ares Vallis. For example, this broad plain is studded with geologically diverse rocks that floodwaters probably moved there from remote locations. At the Rover Test Bed, visitors are able to drive a model rover over simulated Martian terrain by uploading a series of commands to the rover’s computer. This is the same process that NASA scientists and engineers used to drive the Sojourner rover on its exploration of the Pathfinder landing site and is used again for controlling the Mars Exploration Rovers. Visitors will be able to see a full-sized model of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER). Seeing models of the real thing helps to illustrate the engineering story of Mars exploration. Visitors will be able to make their own dust devil. They will also be able to fly around Gusev crater, the landing site of one of the MERs, in 3D.


As the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons dwarfs any volcano found on Earth. The components found in this destination site demonstrate how volcanoes formed on Mars and compare volcanic eruptions on Earth and Mars. For example, visitors are able to make their own erupting shield volcano and compare models of Olympus Mons and the Hawaiian volcanoes.




Mars has polar caps that surround each pole just like Earth but boy are they chilly. The ices in this deep freeze region of Mars are made from both water and CO2 (dry ice). When the sun is able to shine its light onto the polar regions, the ices transform from a solid into a gas. This process along with the strong winds in this region makes some very strange looking terrain. Visitors can explore how light and shadow affects how one perceives hills and craters and they can also investigate the role wind plays in moving dust and forming dust dunes.

(C) 2005 Space Science Instittute. Support provided by the National Science Foundation and NASA.