Mars Geologic Mapping

Devon Burr, Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, University of Tennessee Knoxville


This final laboratory exercise in an introductory planetary geology course requires the students to use Google Mars to interpret a variety of geological processes.


Type and level of course
This final lab exercise caps a 10-lab sequence in an introductory planetary geology course for non-majors.

Geoscience background assumed in this assignment
No geology background is assumed, prior to beginning this one-semester, 100-level Intro to Planetary Geology course.

GIS/remote sensing skills/background assumed in this assignment
No GIS or remote sensing skills are assumed prior to beginning the course. By this point in the course, the students should have learned how to determine solar illumination direction from the image, understand the concept of image resolution and how to take accurate spatial measurements, and to understand superposition relationships.

Software required for this assignment/activity:
GoogleEarth (Mars mode)

Time required for students to complete the assignment:
2 hours


GIS/remote sensing techniques students learn in this assignment
The students learn about the variety of easily accessible remote sensing data.

Other content/concepts goals for this activity
The content goals for this activity are to apply an understanding of relative age dating and geologic processes to interpretation of another planetary surface.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
The higher order thinking skills goals for this activity are to synthesize multiple data sets into an hypothesis (interpretation) for the creation of the observed planetary landscape.

Description of the activity/assignment

This computer laboratory exercise is the final of 10 labs in a semester-long introductory-level course in planetary geology for non-science majors. In prior labs, the students have learned the basic rock-forming elements and rock types, as well as spectroscopy and the major geologic processes in the Solar System (e.g., impact, volcanic, tectonic). The immediately prior lab is an exercise in lunar mapping. In this lab, the students first use GoogleEarth (in Mars mode) to access images as specified in the lab, and interpret these single images. Then they are required to 'fly to' certain regions on Mars and use multiple datasets to interpret the region.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The students are evaluated on 1) whether they have provided accurate, meaningful descriptions of the images, and 2) whether they have drawn reasonable conclusions based on those descriptions.
More information about assessment tools and techniques.

URLs and References

Download teaching materials and tips

  • Activity Description/Assignment: Mars Geologic Mapping (Acrobat (PDF) 152kB Aug10 10)
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