It began with an assignment for his astronomy class. Matt was observing an image of Mars when something caught his eye. He noticed an interesting formation at the edges of some of the craters. The shapes appeared similar to raindrops. Matt thought it could have been an effect from asteroids that had landed on the surface.
"The heat from the impact could have melted some [underground] ice," Matt said, "and therefore created a temporary lake or stream on Mars." The possibility was exciting to think about, because scientists have been trying to determine if there was once water on the surface of Mars.
A NASA project was encouraging the public to get involved in space exploration by submitting suggestions for photos. Matt's professor, Debra Elmegreen, told her class to submit ideas, hoping that NASA would photograph one of the regions suggested by her students.
"I thought it was a slim chance," Professor Elmegreen said, "but it would be a goal to shoot for." It was a goal that paid off when NASA contacted Matt to let him know they had taken detailed pictures of his craters. While the pictures don't prove whether there was water on Mars, they do provide scientists with something new to study that may help them to better understand the science of Mars.
Wanted: Your Rocks
NASA has several programs in place to get kids involved with Mars exploration, so what are you waiting for?
There could be a place for you on the Earth Crew, a group of students who help NASA in planning and conducting explorations from here on Earth. As a member, you'll receive e-mails, updates, and can even provide suggestions for future missions.
Scientists are also calling for students to send them their rocks. That's right, they want rocks. When you send in a rock from your part of the world, they will use a tool similar to the ones on the rovers to tell you what your rock is made of. Then, students can take their information and compare it with the rocks found on Mars. A picture of your rock will be on the Web, with a report on the type of rock. You'll also receive an official certificate, complete with a Mars sticker, for your involvement.
Check out NASA's Mars Exploration Web site for the latest updates from the rovers and fun ways that you can get involved in space exploration.