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Olympus Mons
Courtesy NASA/MOLA Science Team/O. de Goursac, Adrian Lark.

With the recent wave of satellite exploration around Mars and landers and rovers on the surface of the planet, knowledge of Mars is greatly increasing. Much of that research is taking place right here in Arizona. The Arizona Museum of Natural History is working with THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System) at Arizona State University and the Phoenix Mars Mission at the University of Arizona, as well as other Arizona resources, to bring these new interpretations to the public.

Mars is in some respects a fossil planet. It now lacks the movement of great portions of its crust that continually reworks the surface of the Earth. This gives us a view of Mars billions of years in the past at a resolution impossible on Earth. We find that Mars was once far more like Earth. Likewise, today's Mars may give us some idea what lies ahead for the Earth of tomorrow. Mars is about half the size of Earth, and its molten core has long cooled down. Earth may one day resemble its smaller sibling.

The Mars! exhibition explored the evidence for this. In addition, Mars! featured outstanding interactive components. The exhibition explored a canyon on Mars, Valles Marineris, that stretches the length of the United States and a volcano as large as Arizona, Olympus Mons. It even presented a genuine piece of Mars!

No exhibition about Mars would be complete without an exploration of the possibility of life on the planet. The exhibition examined the methodology and technology for determining whether there is or was life on Mars. It explored life on earth that endures conditions similar to Mars, including what to look for and the unusual places life can exist, such as two miles below the Earth's surface. Mars!  examined fossils on Earth that might resemble any fossil remains potentially found on Mars and considered how scientists might recognize them as fossils.

Finally, Mars! explored the technology that yields our modern understanding of Mars and that will answer future questions about the planet. This portion of the exhibition featured models of the actual Mars landers.


Explore the process of dune formation on Mars.


Experiment with the possibility of water on Mars.


Measure your weight on Mars.

Mars today has no liquid water on the surface, but thin clouds that are probably composed of water ice occur in low lying areas, polar regions and at high altitudes. Courtesy NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems.


Mars showing Valles Marineris.
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.


High view of mid-canyon Melas Chasma in Valles Marineris.
Courtesy NASA/JPL/ASU.


Gullies near Gorgonum Chaos.
Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


Layered ice deposits near north pole of Mars.
Courtesy NASA/JPL/ University of Arizona.

Tectonic fractures in Candor Chasma in Valles Marineris.
Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.


Artist’s conception of a Spirit/Opportunity Rover; the twin rovers began exploration on Mars in 2004 and are still active today.
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.


Artist’s conception of the Phoenix Mars Lander. The Phoenix Lander began conducting scientific experiments upon its arrival on Mars in May 2008.
Courtesy NASA/JPL/Caltech/University of Arizona.


Phoenix’s solar panel and robotic arm.
Courtesy NASA/JPL/Caltech/University of Arizona.


The Phoenix Lander at twilight. The lander uses the multi-purpose robotic arm to conduct a variety of physical and chemical analyses of the Martian soil. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.