Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience > Undergraduate Research > Examples > Impact Craters and Water on Mars
Explore Teaching Examples | Provide Feedback

Impact Craters and Water on Mars

Eric Grosfils, Pomona College (egrosfils@pomona.edu)
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Students explore for water on Mars using impact crater morphology. During this lab, students:
  • learn to use the equation writing and graphing capabilities in Microsoft Excel, then
  • develop and apply an impact crater depth-diameter relationship in an effort to constrain the depth to a possible water-rich layer beneath one or more portions of the surface of Mars!

Learning Goals


During this lab, students will:


Context for Use

This lab was developed for an introductory geology course focused on planetary geology, but is suitable for use in any introductory geology course. It is designed for completion in a single (3 hour) lab period with a write-up as homework. The object is to help students become familiar with Excel (if necessary) and to demonstrate how student-accessible analysis of planetary data they collect can be used to acquire immediate insight into an interesting and important geological problem, insight which itself raises interesting questions for more advanced study!

The example provided here teaches the basic method employed in a simple way, but it can be expanded readily in a variety of fashions to create whatever research environment is desired... students working individually or in groups can identify other areas to study and compare, for instance, as a way to promote student ownership of the effort.

Teaching Materials

Download (Acrobat (PDF) 179kB Aug11 05) the handout that is provided for students along with access to the two Mars images:
Image 1 (TIF version ( 1.7MB Aug11 05))
Image 2 (TIF version ( 1.7MB Aug11 05))

Teaching Notes and Tips

Teachers Guide to the Approach

Students do not need any pre-assignment knowledge of impact cratering.

Most students will follow the 5-step process described in the teaching notes.

The most common problem encountered when working with students on this assignment is ... (more)

Research Project, Part 2

To carry the project further, students can be asked to use interactive Mars data maps to pull up MOLA topography data and create profiles of selected features.


I prefer to use written assessments for these sorts of assignments, and I have the students prepare short reports that lay out their data collection approach, their data and results, and their analysis including possible explanations of data outliers.

References and Resources

A few useful web resources for acquiring research project data:


Geoscience:Hydrology:Ground Water, Geoscience:Lunar and Planetary Science, Geology

Resource Type

Activities:Lab Activity

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Earth System Topics

Hydrology:Ground Water, Solid Earth, Hydrology, Solar System and Astronomy


Hydrosphere/Cryosphere:Groundwater, Solar system, Solid Earth


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Planetary Science, Hydrology/Hydrogeology, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Water

See more Examples »