Terrestrial Terrain

Terrestrial Terrain


Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are the four terrestrial planets in our solar system. (Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus are gas planets and Pluto, the smallest, is usually the farthest from our sun.) Though the terrestrial planets are all very different from one another, scientists look for land formations on these rocky planets for clues about the planets' surface history.


Terrestrial Planets

Read these articles and view the video to get more information about the terrestrial planets:

As you read, keep these questions in mind. You can record your answers to these questions on the Terrestrial Terrain student sheet:

  • What are some geological structures or formations found on the terrestrial planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars?
  • What kind of information can evidence of craters on the surface of a planet or moon help scientists figure out?
  • What are some geological formations on Earth? Do you think that our understanding of these features could be applied to other planets?
  • When scientists get pictures and data back from Venus, Mars, and Mercury, do you think that they will all come up with the same "explanation," or hypothesis, for the planet's geological history?

Explore Mercury's Geology

MESSENGER, the most recent mission to Mercury, will orbit the planet to collect data about it. To learn more about Mercury's surface, view some images of Mercury that have been taken so far by the MESSENGER mission:

Consider these questions as you are studying the images:

  • What do you notice about the distribution of the craters, scarps, and volcanoes in the images? Is there any kind of pattern? If so, what is it?
  • Can you form a hypothesis about the distribution of these features on the planet? What would it be?
  • Are these images of Mercury how you expected the planet to look?
  • Do these images look like the images of any other planets, moons, meteors, etc. in the solar system?
  • Why do you think Mercury appears to have so many craters, volcanoes, and scarps?

Now you will get to engage in an online activity where you explore the geology of the planet Mercury. In GeoHunter, you will collect your own geological data from the planet as the spacecraft flies over the surface.

  1. Go to GeoHunter to play the online interactive activity.
  2. Click the "Start" button on the bottom middle of the screen.
  3. First, click on "Learn More" to read about the MESSENGER Mission. The circles between the arrows on the right help you scroll down. Click "Back" on the bottom middle of the screen to return to the main page when you are done reading.
  4. Now click the "How to Play" button for directions to the activity. Click "Back" and start playing. Remember, the goal is to collect your fifteen pieces of data.
  5. You must collect all the features to finish the game. When you are finished, you can start over or return to the E-Sheet.

Keep these questions in mind as you explore this interactive:

  • What types of geological formations did you collect pictures of?
  • What can these geological formations tell you and scientists about Mercury?
  • Is the process of analyzing the data something that happens right away when information is sent back from MESSENGER?
  • Do you think that all geologists who look at this data will come up with the same explanations for why Mercury has these surface features?
  • Do you think this new information from MESSENGER will lead to new hypotheses about the planet's geological history? If so, why?

Knowledge Check

Now, you get to become an expert in one of the terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, or Mars. Pick one of these planets, research its geology, and create a poster on the planet. You should write a 300 to 500 word description of the planet's geology. The poster also may include pictures printed from the Web, or sketches as well as other facts about the planet. Remember that the focus is geology. You can use these resources (and others) to help you in your research:





Once you have finished your poster, you should take one geological aspect of the planet you have profiled and, on a separate sheet of lined paper, write about how you would use this knowledge to interpret new Mercury data. Here are some guidelines:

  • State the geological formation you will look for in the Mercury data.
  • State why this type of formation can lead to a hypothesis about the planet's surface history.
  • Write any hypotheses or ideas that observing these land formations could lead to. 


This esheet is a part of the GeoHunter lesson.

Did you find this resource helpful?

Esheet Details