Beagle 2

Beagle 2 on Mars

Beagle 2 was the first European lander mission to another planet, Mars. Having hitched a ride most of the way with the ESA orbiter "Mars Express", Beagle 2 was due to land on the planet on Christmas Day. Once there it was to start its mission of examining the Martian geology and searching for evidence that Mars once did, and maybe still does, harbour life.

 

Leicester's Part in the Beagle 2 Mission

The University of Leicester was a Principal Partner in Beagle 2 since the project began and was responsible for a large part of its scientific payload. This includes:
  • The PAW instrument package: the Position Adjustable Workbench, this formed the ‘hands and eyes' of Beagle 2. Many of the scientific instruments are mounted on the PAW.
  • The X-ray Spectrometer on the PAW, which was to measure the composition of the rocks and soil on Mars.
  • The Rock Corer/Grinder on the PAW, which would have prepared samples of Martian rock for analysis, was provided by Dr TC Ng in collaboration with the Hong Kong Polytechnic Hong Kong, China, with key technical support from the University of Leicester.
  • The Environmental Sensor Suite team, a joint project with the Open University, was to measure wind speeds, temperature and pressure on Mars

The scientists also built a Martian Environment Simulator in their laboratory which reproduced the temperature, pressure and atmosphere known to exist on Mars to test the instruments in the hostile environment that Beagle 2 would have found on landing.

Beagle 2 was controlled from the University of Leicester's Lander Operations Control Centre at the National Space Centre. The activities at the Operations Centre was to involve:

  • Testing of all operations and commands to be sent to Mars using the engineering version of Beagle 2.
  • Transmitting the commands to Beagle 2 via European Space Agency and NASA space communication links.
  • Receiving data and images from the experiments that Beagle 2 was to have conducted on the Martian surface.

Uniquely for any space mission, these activities were to be on show to visitors to the National Space Centre as the University team controlled and operated the Beagle 2 lander on Mars-over 100 million miles away from Earth.

Set out below are just a few ideas as to how Beagle 2 science can be used in your classroom. After you have downloaded a file, feel free to edit it if you can make it more appropriate to your particular class or teaching style. The only thing we ask is that you retain the header so as to recognise the original source of the material.

 

Key Stage 2

"I Wouldn't Send a Dog Out on a Night Like This!"

Addresses:

Life Processes and Living Things 1e; 2e; 3a, b
Materials and their Properties 1c; 3f
Physical Processes 6a-d, f

Beagle 2 had a major problem in keeping warm during the cold Martian nights. Working either in groups, or in a class investigation, students attempt to design a suitable insulating material. that can be used by a Martian lander.

 

Key Stage 3

"I Wouldn't Send a Dog Out on a Night Like This!"

Addresses:

Sc 4 "Energy Resources and Energy Transfer"

See KS 2

"Robots are Colour Blind"

Addresses:

Sc 4 "Light and Sound"

Capturing accurate images of another world is more difficult than it might seem. Students undertake teacher lead experiments that reveal the nature of colour images, the effects of coloured light on coloured objects and the use of filters.

"A Rollercoaster Ride to Mars "

Addresses:

Sc 4 "Forces and Linear Motion"

Beagle 2 hit the Martian atmosphere at over 20,000 kilometers per hour. Less than ten minutes later it should have been safely on the surface. But with no space for rockets to slow it down and very little atmosphere to provide friction, how was Beagle 2 to avoid producing a new Martian crater (and more importantly, what went wrong)? Students compete in teams to design and produce a system that can protect a delicate scientific payload (an egg) on landing from a great height.

"Searching for signs of life on Mars"

Addresses:

Sc 2 "Cells and Cell Functions", "Humans as Organisms" & "Green Plants as Organisms"

Sc 3 "Classifying Materials".

Students begin by researching suitable criteria for defining the presence of life. They then analyse soil samples in tests similar to the experiments on the Mars Viking Lander. They use their operational definition of life to determine whether there are any signs of life in three different soil samples. Teams make observations, draw pictures as they collect data from the samples, and then reach their conclusions.

"Finding Evidence for Water on Mars"

Addresses:

Sc 3 "Changing Materials".

Students will begin by thinking about the question 'Is there water on Mars' using the student worksheet. They will then analyse satellite images of the red planet that show features possibly created by water. They will then compare these images with similar ones from our own planet and will have to find similarities and differences, and draw conclusions about how such features on Mars could have been formed.

"Temperature on Mars"

Addresses:

Sc 1

Students will begin by comparing the range of temperatures on the Earth, Mars and the Moon, using the student worksheet.

They will then have to plot the temperature over a ten-day period from 4 September to 13 September, as measured by three different craft that landed on the surface of Mars:

  • Viking 1 - 1976
  • Viking 2 - 1976
  • Pathfinder - 1997

They will use these plots to answer questions about the temperatures on Mars and how this relates to our Earth. They will then investigate how the temperature changes over a 24-hour period, from 2pm on 9 September to 2pm on the 10 September, and again answer questions about what they observe

"Volcanoes on Earth and Mars"

Addresses:

Sc 2 "Changing Materials"

Students will use topography data to plot the shapes of various volcanoes on Mars (using either graph paper or a computer package such as Excel), and compare these with the shapes and dimensions of volcanoes on the Earth. They will then investigate reasons why volcanoes on Mars are so much higher and broader than those on the Earth.

 

Key Stage 4

"I Wouldn't Send a Dog Out on a Night Like This!"

Addresses:

Sc 4 "Electricity" & "Energy Resources and Energy Transfer"

See KS 2. Despite being relevant to such a young group, when taken to its full extent this is a major technical and scientific challenge that will tax the most able KS 4 group.

"A Rollercoaster Ride to Mars "

Addresses:

Sc 4 "Forces and Linear Motion"

See KS 2

"Live Dogs and Dead Vikings "

Addresses:

Sc 1 "Ideas and Evidence in Science"

Students are provided with a detailed description of the search for life as carried out by the Viking and Beagle 2 missions. Questions then test their understanding of both the text and the nature of scientific enquiry.

"Mars Life - Viking Mission"

Addresses:

Sc 2 "Cells and Cell Functions", "Humans as Organisms" & "Green Plants as Organisms"

Sc 3 "Classifying Materials" & "Patterns of Behaviour"

Sc 4 "Radioactivity"

Students begin by reviewing their criteria for defining the presence of life (either by using the 'Searching for Signs of Life' activity, or a classroom discussion). They then read the descriptions of the Viking Lander biology experiments. They will use their knowledge of life processes to determine the principles by which each of the Viking instruments looked for signs of life. Teams will answer the questions on their worksheets (with the help of the fact sheet provided) and then decide to focus on one experiment, which they will explain to the rest of the class.

"Finding Evidence for Water on Mars"

Addresses:

Sc 3 "Changing Materials".

See KS 3

"Temperature on Mars"

Addresses:

Sc 1

See KS 3

"Positions of Volcanoes on Earth and Mars"

Addresses:

Sc 3 "Changing Materials"

Sc 4 "Waves"

Students will begin by looking at a map of the active volcanoes and plates on the surface of the Earth. By considering this they will answer questions about why volcanoes are found in the areas that they are, and how they relate to the movement of plates over the surface of the Earth. They will then relate this information to a map showing the positions of the volcanoes on Mars, and try to work out how volcanoes on Mars may have formed and whether or not plate tectonics is in operation like it is on our Earth.

Site Administrator: Professor M. A. Barstow. Email: mab@star.le.ac.uk. Page design updated by J. K. Barstow
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