Grand Tour of the Terrestrial Planets

Declan De Paor, Filis Coba, and Stephen Burgin

This activity is part of the GEODE Project

Initial Publication Date: June 26, 2019 | Reviewed: December 10, 2020


In the age of publicly funded space exploration involving several national space agencies, knowing about the highest mountain in the solar system is as basic to geospatial literacy as knowing about the highest mountain on Earth is to classical geography. This activity is a Google Earth grand tour of the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, the Moon, and Mars) and guides students to explore atmospheres, magnetospheres, landscapes, and interiors. Each tour commences with an astronaut's overview from space, and then it zooms in on specific, media-rich placemarks, and ends with a concluding view from space. This is intended to help students develop a sense of relative position and relative size of features on other planets.

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Introductory lunar and planetary science courses

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Familiarity with Google Earth is useful; the following can help:

How the activity is situated in the course

The tours were tested in a study of 364 students in an introductory astronomy class. The activity was administered during the lab class and students worked in groups of three per computer.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Compare and contrast the atmospheres, magnetospheres, landscapes, and interiors of near-Earth planets and the Moon

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • critical thinking
  • geospatial reasoning

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

Students and instructors are to open Planet Grand Tour kml (Zip Archive 3kB Jan30 19) in Google Earth.

The following are useful to instructors:

Teaching Notes and Tips

In addition to the GTTP_Instructors_Guide (Acrobat (PDF) 889kB Jan30 19), please see the publication for other teaching tips and notes: De Paor, D., Coba, F., and Burgin, S., 2016. A Google Earth Grand Tour of the Terrestrial Planets. Journal of Geoscience Education, 64 (4), 292-302,


This activity was tested in an introductory class of 364 students. Assessment included a pretest, immediate posttests, follow-up posttests, instructor's anecdotal observations, and a few semistructured student interviews. Test questions were designed to limit guessing and encourage critical thinking rather than memorization. For instance, the use of multiple correct answers, although difficult to score, was formulated to encourage reasoning skills.

References and Resources

Original Website -

This is part of the GEODE Project funded by NSF DUE 1323419 and Google gifts to ODU and JMU. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or Google Inc.