WAEC students speak with Mars Rover scientists
When a new rover heads for Mars in 2020, a group of students now at Warren Area Elementary Center will have spoken with one of the scientists who designed it.
Dr. Jennifer Buz, a researcher at Northern Arizona University, worked on the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, and is on the team working on the next rover.
She studied geology and planetary science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Buz has studied the magnetic fields of rocks brought back from the moon and has researched the volcanoes of Venus.
She called in Thursday to speak with and give a presentation to fourth graders at WAEC.
“When I was about your age I got to go to the (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” Buz told the students.
After that, Buz met WAEC STEM and Technology Teacher Amanda McBriar when McBriar was a resident assistant and Buz a student at the Center for Talented Youth Summer Camp sponsored by Johns Hopkins University.
Her interest in science, planets, and life’s origins set her eyes skyward.
“When we learn about other planets, we learn about our own planet,” she said. “It’s really important for looking at environments and processes” that we can’t see here on Earth.
“It may be our next home,” Buz said. “We should learn as much about it as we can.”
While Buz will be involved in designing the rover, the students could be involved in naming it, she said.
“All of the rovers are named by students,” she said. “You might be the one who picks what that rover is named.”
She encouraged them to write essays to propose names.
The community at large is asked to participate in the decision about what the rover should research.
“It’s up to the public to advocate for a site,” she said.
Between rovers, and with their help, Buz is studying the presence — past and present — of water on Mars. “The poles of Mars have both water ice and dry ice,” she said.
A student asked what made the water dry up.
“Mars used to have a magnetic field,” she said. “When that magnetic field died, the solar wind stripped away the atmosphere and the oceans.”
Buz showed photos to the students that gave evidence of rivers once flowing on Mars. “It might have raised and snowed,” she said.
She explained that while the Mars day (sol) is almost exactly the same length as ours — 24 hours and 40 minutes — a year would be about twice as long. The gravity of Mars means a person who weighs 100 pounds on Earth would weigh about 38 pounds on Mars. The distance from the sun and the thin atmosphere lead to a temperature range from an Earthling-comfortable 86 degrees to a much less desirable negative-284 degrees.
McBriar said the entire fourth grade, in two groups, has seen Buz’s presentation.
Some of the students are doing work similar to Buz’s. “They’re building science rovers in STEM,” McBriar said. “We built them with legos and programmed them on the computer and put sensors on them.”
Milo the Science Rover isn’t as large or sophisticated as Curiosity.
Buz said that rover is about the size of a Mini Cooper and carries a number of mechanisms for collecting and testing rocks — a drill, cameras, an oven, and a laser.
Buz even talked about Mars in popular culture and acted as fact-checker.
Referring to the movie ‘The Martian’ with Matt Damon, she said the dust storm that resulted in his character being stranded on the planet is not realistic.
The atmosphere does not support the kind of storm shown in the movie and the material being thrown around is too large, she said.
“Mars’ atmosphere is really thin and the dust is really fine,” she said.
Other than that, she said the movie’s portrayal of the planet was pretty good.