Centaurus High Students Work on Mars Rover Project with NASA Lab

March 10, 2018 GMT

Centaurus High students are helping decide where to send the Mars Exploration Rover “Opportunity” as they study the planet’s geology in a project with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For the program, about 20 Centaurus students come in early once a week to work on the project. As they analyze the images sent back by the rover, they make suggestions on where to send it next.

“We’re trying to explore not only Mars, but how do you do science in the real world and work on a big project,” said Centaurus science teacher Emily Haynes. “This is not a simulation.”

The students are working with Bill Farrand, a senior research scientist at Boulder’s Space Science Institute and a member of the Mars Exploration Rover science team.

He’s talked with them about the rover’s mission, Mars’ geologic history and the image processing techniques used to determine the mineralogy of rocks.

For the students, the experience includes developing research questions, analyzing Mars rover image data and developing evidence-based conclusions.

“We’re one of the first getting to see these images and look at this completely different world,” said junior Emma Davis.

Haynes noted the rover now is in a particularly interesting area on the rim of Mars’ Endeavor crater. The spot appears to be an area where water spilled over the rim and altered the rocks.

“We’re looking at the archeological history of Mars and focusing on water,” said junior John Painter. “I’ve learned a lot about the scientific process.”

Students talked about some of the challenges of analyzing the images and their surprise at how well the Opportunity still works given its age. The Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were launched in 2003 to explore two scientifically compelling areas on Mars.

“It’s kind of like a flip phone,” said junior Liam Travis. “It works great, it just seems a little outdated.”

He added that he sees the project as an opportunity to get a head start on a future aerospace career.

“It’s the real deal — we’re working with a rover on Mars,” he said. “In the coming years, we’re going to be sending more things to Mars, and I will have had this experience.”

Along with research, the Centaurus students are developing a website to share ideas, training and results from the analysis of the images of the Martian surface with students at other schools.

“It’s a really unique experience,” said sophomore Megan Finnigan.

Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, boundsa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/boundsa