Meet our Neighbour: Planet Mars!

:: Description ::

In this activity groups of visually impaired students and their sighted peers are invited to use daily basis items and recycled materials to build a tactile schematic image of a celestial object from our solar system. In a group activity, they are also encouraged to research about our celestial neighbour and its main characteristics.

This activity is planned for groups of children from 6 to 12 years old, and their educators gathered in groups of 3 to 5 children (for example 3 sighted children and two visually impaired). The activity can be implemented at three stages that can be done separately:

  • Research on the celestial object by the children prior to the activity;
  • Build the tactile image in a hands-on performed by the sighted children closely interacting with their visually impaired peers;
  • Tactile exploration of the final schematic image by visually impaired children.

Variations of the activity can also be conducted. For instance, promote activities for sighted children in which they learn and build the tactile images and then promote explanatory sessions to their visually impaired peers.

In all stances, it is strongly advised to stimulate interactions between sighted children and their visually impaired peers.

:: Materials ::

Tactile features present in planet Mars and correspondent suggested textures:

  • Surface of Mars: thick fabric;
  • Craters: curved sequins;
  • Polar caps: Aluminum foil;
  • Atmosphere: Cotton;
  • Volcanoes: Buttons.
  • Black and white prints of image (x2) and mold (x1). Click links to Download.

These materials are only suggestions; all textures can be replaced by local low-cost materials from each community that plans to implement “Meet our Neighbours!”.

:: The Scientist Explains ::

[General Information]
Mars, nicknamed the Red planet because of its dominant colour, is the fourth planet from the Sun at an average distance of 228 million kilometres. With Mercury, Venus, and Earth, it belongs to the category of telluric planets, those that have a solid surface.

Its equatorial diameter of 6,787 km is about half that of Venus and Earth. Because of its smaller size, its internal structure and its climatic evolution have been substantially different from that of Venus and Earth. Its atmosphere is much less dense, with an average surface pressure of 6 millibars (150 times less than on Earth), and composed of carbon dioxide (CO2: 95%), nitrogen (N2: 3%) and argon (Ar: 1.6%) with traces of oxygen and water vapour.

[Tactile features]
[While you explore the tactile schematic image you can find:]

Canyon Valles Marineris
Among the main geologic features, there is Valles Marineris, a canyon nearly 4,000 km long, with a depth that can reach 7,000 m (materialized by the deep cut in the thick fabric on the tactile image). There is also a high plateau called Tharsis, on which sit several volcanoes (materialized by the buttons on the tactile image). One of these volcanoes, Olympus Mons, is the highest in the solar system with a summit altitude of 26 km.

Mars has two tiny, natural satellites, Phobos and Deimos. Their mean diameters are respectively 22 and 13 km. By their aspect and their composition, they are very similar to asteroids. Actually, they may be asteroids that were captured by the gravitational attraction of Mars.

Mars is the planet that is the easiest to reach by planetary probes: launch opportunities occur about every two years, and the travel time is about six months. Since the mid-1960s, nearly twenty probes have explored its surface, atmosphere, and natural satellites, returning many data allowing us to understand better the planet’s past. An important question that these probes are trying to answer is whether life may have existed at some point on Mars.

Polar Regions
The Polar Regions are permanently covered with a mixture of carbonic ice (frozen CO2) and water ice (these ice caps are materialized by the aluminium foil on the tactile image). The extent of the polar caps varies with seasons, so they usually appear different in size, the larger being of course in the winter hemisphere.

Similarly, condensation clouds composed of carbon dioxide and water vapour regularly form in the atmosphere (materialized by the clumps of cotton on the tactile image). These clouds sometimes cover the summit of the highest volcanoes.

:: Full Activity Description ::

Prior to the activity:

  • Gather the children in groups of 5 elements – visually impaired and non-visually impaired (ideally three non-visually impaired to 2 visually impaired);
  • Present one image per group;
  • Distribute materials accordingly;

During the activity:

  • Close supervision – follow each group and explain each of the tactile elements and their correspondence to the each object feature;
  • Understand the different needs of each group of students to promote interaction between the children during the building of the tactile image – visually impaired children need to be familiarized with the different materials involved;

Building the tactile image:

This is a step by step guide to the activity of building the tactile image of planet Mars.

STEP 1: Print two copies of 06_Mars_Image.pdf, in a regular black and white printer;

STEP 2: Cut the outer, round shape of the planet from one of the paper prints;

STEP 3: Place it on top of the thick fabric and with a pen draw the circle;

STEP 4: Cut the round shape again on the thick fabric;

STEP 5: Place the cut image print on top of the thick fabric and with a tooth pick mark the area on the surface of the fabric;

STEP 6: Remove the thick fabric area previously outlined by the toothpick;

STEP 7: Cut the aluminum foil accordingly to the area outlined by the polar caps;

STEP 8: Place abundant glue on the area correspondent to the cut area for the polar caps;

STEP 9: Place the cut aluminium foil on top of the polar caps area;

STEP 10: Place glue on the flat surface of the larger button and place it on top of the double circled areas;

STEP 11: Place glue on the flat surface of the smaller button and place it on top of the larger buttons previously glued;

STEP 12: Cut the cotton in smaller portions and place abundant glue on the region denoted by curved lines;

STEP 13: Place cotton on top of the glue;

STEP 14: Place glue on the flat surface of the sequins and place it on top of the single circled areas;

Wait for the image to dry. This may take a while.

:: Exploring the tactile image ::

There are several ways in which you can explore the scientific content of the tactile schematic images.

If you’re presenting the final tactile image to the children, first let them explore and feel the different textures. Questions will arise as the child explores and it is important to guide them. Read “The Scientist Explains” to understand the different features present in Mars schematic tactile image.

(1) Explore the overall surface of the planet represented by the thick fabric and the different features present; (2) canyon (3) craters; (4) volcanoes, (5) polar caps and (6) clouds.