University of Michigan - Department of Astronomy

Version: Google

Martian Surface Features-Exercise


Mars is a smaller planet than Earth. At about half the diameter of Earth, it must have cooled off enough to end any major geologic activity long ago. Its volcanoes are now extinct, and most tectonic activity ended at the same time (note tectonic activity is any movement of the crust - on Earth the crust broke into pieces called plates so almost all tectonic activity on Earth comes from plate tectonics). Without volcanoes to replenish it, Mars' atmosphere is slowly escaping into space, getting thinner. Some of the atmosphere also freezes out to form the ice caps. There is still enough atmosphere to create dunes and dust devils, but not enough for liquid water to exist on the surface. Although the atmosphere is thick enough to stop micro-meteorites, most meteorites will reach the surface. Without geologic activity to refresh the surface material, the craters generally stay there until they are erased by the wind.

In this lab you'll be using Google Mars to explore the surface of Mars. First, point your browser to

The default map is the topographic or elevation map. visible and infra red maps are also available. You can also zoom in or out. Note when you zoom out, the image repeats to fill the window from side to side. You can also scroll up and down.

Spend a few minutes looking at the different maps and trying some of the links at the top, then answer the questions below.


Answer the following questions in complete sentences using the map provided of the Martian surface:

  1. What probably caused the huge plains regions primarily found in the northern hemisphere? (There are several possibilities).

  2. Which is older, the plains or the cratered terrain found mostly in the southern hemisphere? How can you tell?

  3. What evidence do you find for large impacts on Mars? (Give names.)

  4. Do you see any evidence on this map for large scale erosion by wind, water, or both? (Hint: use the links at the top to find specific types of features.)

  5. What can be said about the general elevation of the plains areas surrounding the volcanoes?

  6. What might cause this?

  7. Shield volcanoes form over stationary 'hot spots' in the mantle. On Earth, plate tectonics moves the volcano away from the hot spots thus limiting the time of growth of the volcano. A new volcano forms on the are of the crust now over the hot spot. What does your answer to question 6 say about the possibility of plate tectonics on Mars? (Note, the height of Olympus Mons is 27km while Mauna Kea is 10km high).

  8. Locate the Valles Marineris. Describe this feature and compare it to terrestrial features. What process (more than one) do you think helped to create it?

  9. The Mars Phoenix Lander was launched on August 4, 2007 and landed on Mars on May 25, 2008 in the north polar region. It is the successor to the failed Mars Polar Lander, which was supposed to land in the south polar region. Why do you think scientists want it to land in the polar regions of Mars?

  10. Summarize the possible land modifying processes that have occurred on Mars and their relative importance to Martian geology.

Last Update: 5/19/09 by SAM

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