BRIGHAM CITY -- A group of seventh-graders at Adele C. Young Intermediate School had the unique experience of working on a Mars education project with NASA this year.
Just more than a dozen students enrolled in an elective science class where they learned about geology and how it affects the terrain on Mars.
Steven Hill taught the Mars Mania class this year. While surfing the Internet looking for activities related to his class, he stumbled across the Mars Student Imaging Project through Arizona State University's Mars Education Program.
"Our objective was to come up with a theory about the formation of a canyon on Mars and present it to NASA, so they could use a thermal-energy camera that takes pictures on different orbit paths," said student Josie Bell.
The class split into two groups and, using the material they learned in Hill's class, devised several theories and experiments to either prove or disprove them.
There was a great deal of laughter among the students when they described the experiments they conducted. The most memorable was the "golf ball incident" when they planned to throw a golf ball at a bucket of water to see if the canyon could have been formed by a comet or asteroid hitting Mars' surface.
The first shot hit the floor, bounced off a wall and hit one of the students in the head. The second ball hit its target -- and broke the bucket, spilling water out onto the floor.
After working through more theories, the students arrived at two formal questions they posed to Paige Graff, the assistant director of the ASU Mars Education and Outreach Program.
The students presented their work to her via teleconference, during which they had to be prepared to answer a number of difficult questions about their research.
One group asked: "Is there evidence of igneous rocks in Melas Chasm (a part of Valles Marineris)?" The other group asked, "Is there evidence of subduction in Tithonium Chasmata?"
Based on the students' demonstration of knowledge, NASA authorized each group to select two specific photographs of the planet that could be used to provide evidence toward their theory.
"The pictures were mind-boggling," Josie said.
Instead of finding deposits of igneous rock, she said, most of the surface in their photographs was smooth, with just a small section of rock at the bottom of the photo.
"We weren't able to prove (our theories) right, but we weren't able to prove them wrong, either," said student Anthony Johnson.
While it all sounds like a lot of very complicated work, the students agreed that their best work came in the form of play.
"We got our best ideas by being weird or abnormal," said Hannah Wood. "It pushed our creative abilities to further heights."
Hill said he was able to offer the Mars class this year with grant money from the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative. However, USTAR funds are not available for the upcoming school year.
The school is trying to find another source for the money.