In this lesson students gain a new perspective on planet earth using the Microsoft Worldwide Telescope (WWT). WWT is visualization software that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world for an exciting and interactive exploration of the universe.
In Step 1, the class as a whole learns the difference between geography and topography, locates all the planets in the solar system, and briefly compares the topography of Earth and Mars. In Step 2, the class explores the topography of Earth. Views of oceans, continents, the polar ice caps, mountain ranges, deserts and an in-depth look at the Grand Canyon engage students in learning essential information about the surface of our planet. In Step 3, the class explores the surface of Mars, its craters, mountains, and ice caps, and takes a close look at its grand canyon, the Valles Marineris. In Steps 4 and 5, students have an opportunity to explore on their own one feature of the surface of both Earth and Mars, research the two, compare them, and present their findings in an Office PowerPoint.
The steps in this lesson are designed to be used both separately or together. For example, you may want to do only Step 1 or Steps 1 and 2 with kindergarten students. With first, second, and third graders you might do Steps 1 through 3, and fourth and fifth grade students can do all five steps.
On This Page
|Lesson plan information|
|Lesson extension activities|
Lesson plan information
|•||Students will understand the position of earth in the solar system.|
|•||Students will learn the topography of Earth and Mars.|
|•||Students will take a teacher-led interactive tour of the topography of two planets in our solar system, Earth and Mars.|
|•||During the tours, students will collect the names and key information about the solar system, land and water masses, and distinctive features of each planet on the Student Handout.|
|•||Students will explore on their own one topographical feature of both Earth and Mars using the WWT, research them, and compare the two.|
|•||Students will create a Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentation about the topography of Earth and Mars.|
In this lesson we are going to explore and compare the topography of Earth and Mars. First, let’s talk about the difference between geography and topography. Geography comes from two Greek words:
geo, which means earth, and graphia, which means description or writing.
So geography is any writing about or description of the Earth.
Topography comes from two Greek words also:
topos and graphia.
You already know what graphia means: writing or description. Topos means “place.” So the basic definition of topography is “any writing or description about place.”
So what’s the difference between these two, geography and topography?
|•||Geography focuses only on the planet Earth. We can’t talk about the geography of Saturn, for example. Topography, by contrast, is the study of any place in our universe, including other planets in our solar system.|
|•||Geography includes any description of the Earth, including not only it lands and the features of that land, but also its inhabitants, climate, and all natural and historical events that happen here.Topography, the description of any place, doesn’t usually include the study of a place’s inhabitants or culture and history. Instead, topography focuses on studying and mapping the surface shape and features of places, such as how much water and land covers the surface of a planet, what kind of land it is, whether there are mountains, and so on. Has anyone seen a topographic map? Maps that show the features of the surface, such as the elevation of mountains. [Show students a flat topographical map and a relief topographic map.]
Summing up: Topography covers all planets, including Earth, and it studies only the surface of the place. Geography refers only to the land of Earth and its it includes a study of the peoples who live there.
We are going on a virtual tour of the topography first of Earth and then of Mars using the WWT, new virtualization software the combines many kinds of scientific data to give you a first-hand, interactive, 3-D view of our universe. As we tour, listen for the information asked for on the Student Handout and fill it in. Once we have finished our tour together, you will have an opportunity to use the WWT to explore one topographical feature of Earth and one of Mars by yourself, compare them, and present your findings in an Office PowerPoint.
Note You can adjust this lesson for your student’s ages and needs. For example, you may want to do only Step 1 or Steps 1 and 2 with kindergarten students. With first, second, and third graders you could do Steps 1 through 3, and fourth and fifth grade students can do all five steps.
Step 1: Tour the solar system
Software: Microsoft WorldWide Telescope
What to do: Take the tour and gather information
|1.||Open WWT. In bottom left corner, under Look At, click the arrow and on the menu click Solar System.|
|2.||Using the mouse wheel, scroll up to zoom in until the sun and some of the planets are just visible. You may have to tilt the solar system so all the planets are in view. To rotate or tilt, drag with the center mouse button or hold CTRL while dragging. A thumbnail of all the planets, in their order from the sun, closest to farthest, appears across the bottom of the screen.|
|3.||Identify the planets. In the solar system, right-click on the sun and read the information in the window that appears. Repeat this for all the planets, to give students a sense of distance from the sun and relationship among the planets; right-click each planet and the information window appears. Pay special attention to the location of Earth and Mars. Tell students that Earth is the third planet from the sun and Mars is the fourth; they are neighbors.|
|4.||Briefly visit each planet. Click the Sun thumbnail at the bottom of the screen to zoom to the sun. Have the students provide a quick description of the topography (color, texture, craters, etc.) of the sun. Repeat this for each planet, starting with Venus. When you have finished viewing Mars, tell students that the Sun and these first four planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, form the inner solar system. When you have finished viewing Neptune, tell them that the last four planets form the outer solar system.|
|5.||Ask students:Which planet is the largest? Jupiter; it is2.5 times all the mass of all the other planets put together.
Why is Pluto not shown? Pluto is now classified as a dwarf planet. The other dwarf planets are: Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.
Step 2: Tour Earth’s surface
Software: Microsoft WorldWide Telescope
What to do: Tour Earth’s surface and take notes
|1.||Open WWT. In bottom left corner, under Look At, click the arrow and on the menu click Earth. Rotate the planet so students can see landmasses and oceans. To rotate, click the planet and drag it in the direction you want it to go.
|2.||Zoom in until the oceans and continents are visible. Rotate the planet so that the ocean nearest your school is centered on the screen. Identify this ocean and then rotate the planet to visit the remaining xxx oceans. Identify each ocean.
|3.||Rotate to the north pole (Greenland Icecap) and then to the south pole Antartica Ice Cap. (Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from The Physics Factbook, ed. Glenn Elert.) Glacial ice, including the Greenland and Antartica Ice Caps, covers 10-11 percent of all land on Earth.Greenland Ice Cap
Area: 1,736,095 km2, and up to 3 km in thickness
Volume: About 10 percent of world’s ice and 10 percent of its fresh water.
Maximum sea level rise potential: 6.5 m: According to the U.S. geological survey, the Greenland ice cap with its volume of 630,000 cubic miles, if melted could yield enough water to maintain the Mississippi river for over 4,700 years.
Antarctica Ice Cap
Area: 13,586,400 km2, reaches a thickness of nearly 5 km
Volume: About 90 percent of the world’s ice and 70 percent of its fresh water. Together the two ice caps contain 80 percent of the Earth’s fresh water.
Maximum sea level rise potential: 73.44 m: According to the U.S. geological survey, if Antarctica’s approximately 6,000,000 cubic miles of ice should melt, the level of the oceans all over the world would rise 200 feet.
|4.||Rotate the globe so that the continent on which you live is centered on the screen. Have students briefly note one topographic feature of your continent: desert or lake or mountain range, and so on.|
|5.||Tour the remaining six continents, rotating the planet to view each one. Have students identify each continent and briefly note one distinctive topographic feature of it. You may want to zoom in on the continent’s feature they detect or ask to see, for example the Himalayan Mountain Range in Asia. Other examples include:
If you have time, ask students what topographic features they have heard about that they would like to view (largest lake, Tibetan Plain, or others).
|6.||Optional: To reinforce the learning about continents, take the brief Earth at Night tour, which provides an excellent view of land masses and a visual understanding of population density around the world in relation to land and water. To take the tour, in the lower left of your screen, under Look At, click Earth, then under Imagery, click Earth at Night.|
|7.||Visit the Grand Canyon. Rotate and tilt the planet so the southwest and Arizona are centered on screen. Rotate and tilt to Latitude 36.054 N and Longitude 112.138 W. The latitude and longitude of the center of screen are shown in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. Zoom in to see the layers. Travel along the length of it.
Step 3: Tour the surface of Mars
Software: Microsoft WorldWide Telescope
What to do: Tour the surface of Mars and take notes
|1.||Open WWT. In bottom left corner, under Look At, click the arrow and on the menu click Planet. Under Imagery, click Mars.|
|2.||Zoom in until planet fills the screen and surface features are visible. Tell students:
|3.||Rotate and tilt the planet so students can view the entire surface. Ask them:
|4.||Rotate and tilt Mars so that the two polar ice caps come into view. Tell students:
|5.||Rotate and tilt the planet to 13.9° S, 59.2°W. This is Valles Marineris, the Grand Canyon of Mars. The largest known crevice in the solar system, it is 4000 km long, 200 km wide, and up to 7 km deep. The Grand Canyon on Earth is only 446 km long and nearly 2 km deep. Valles Marineris runs along the Martian Equator and extends across one-fifth the circumference of Mars. It was formed by a rift fault, when the planet cooled and the crust in this region rose and collapsed. Some channels on the east side may have been formed by water or carbon dioxide. Zoom in with the mouse wheel and then travel along the canyon.|
|6.||For closer looks at the surface of Mars, take the 2-3 minute Mars Landing Guided Tour and the 1 minute Opportunity Guided Tour of Mars. At the top of the screen, click Guided Tours, then click the Planets thumbnail. Click the Mars Landing thumbnail on page 1 and Opportunity on Mars thumbnail on page 2.|
Step 4: Visit and research one topographical feature of both Earth and Mars
Software: Microsoft WorldWide Telescope, Microsoft Internet Explorer
What to do: Research one surface feature of Earth and Mars
|1.||Open WWT. In the bottom left corner, under Look At, click the arrow and on the menu click Planet. Under Imagery, click Mars. Zoom closer by using the mouse wheel, and then explore the planet’s surface by rotating and tilting it. To rotate and tilt, hold down the left mouse button while dragging the pointer.|
|2.||Select one topographical feature to explore in depth, for example: a mountain, a desert, ice caps, or craters. You may want to use Inter net Explorer to help you find a distinctive topographical feature.|
|3.||Once you have selected a topographic feature, use Internet Explorer to research the site. Take good notes and be sure to include digital images that illustrate your points.|
|4.||Open WWT. In bottom left corner, under Look At, click the arrow and on the menu click Planet. Under Imagery, click Earth. Zoom closer by using the mouse wheel, and then explore the planet’s surface by rotating and tilting it. To rotate and tilt, hold down the left mouse button while dragging the pointer. Look for a topographical feature comparable to the one you researched on the Mars’s surface. For example, if you researched a mountain on Mars, research a mountain on Earth; if you researched one of Mars’s craters, research a crater or crater lake on Earth; if you explored the desert on Mars, research a desert on earth. (Scientists are now finding similarities between the Mars desert and the desert in Chile!)|
|5.||Once you have selected a topographic feature, use Internet Explorer to research the site. Take good notes on the site. Take good notes and be sure to include digital images that illustrate your points.|
|6.||Compare the two sites. In what ways are they similar and in what ways do they differ? What conclusions can you draw about the topography of Earth and Mars?|
Step 5: Create an Office PowerPoint comparing the topography of Earth and Mars
Software: Microsoft Office PowerPoint
What to do: Create a PowerPoint of your research
|1.||Open Microsoft Office PowerPoint. Create a title slide for your presentation.|
|2.||Organize the material you collected in your research. You may want to start with the feature of Mars and then move to the site on Earth or vice versa. Or, you may want to alternate slides of Mars and Earth, making comparisons along the way.|
|3.||As you make individual slides, be sure to put only the most important information on the slides. You can add additional information in the Notes section below, to guide you as you present your material.|
|4.||Collect any additional digital images you may need and add all the necessary images to your slides.|
|5.||Add a conclusion slide.|
|6.||Format the style and color of your Office PowerPoint so it is legible and attractive.|
|7.||Practice presenting your slides.|
Evaluates students on:
|•||Their participation in the tours/discussions|
|•||The thoroughness and accuracy of their Student Handouts|
|•||The thoroughness, accuracy, aptness of comparison, and design of their Office PowerPoint presentation.|
|•||If you haven’t already done so, install the Microsoft WorldWide Telescope on your classroom computer.If you are not familiar with the WWT, take some time to explore it on your own, so you will know how to navigate it during the teacher-led tour of Earth and Mars. To learn how to use this tool fast, you may want to start by taking the Educator’s Tour on the Guided Tours tab.|
|•||Download the Student Handout (Microsoft Office Word document, 23 KB) to your classroom computer.|
Lesson extension activities
|•||Have students do a report comparing the melting of Earth’s polar ice caps and the melting of the ice caps on Mars.|
|•||Have students research Mount Everest and Olympus Mons, comparing how both mountains were created.|
|•||Have students research topographical maps of Earth and Mars and study how these maps represent surface data. Two good sites to begin are: