New Mars Gallery Open to Visitors

New Mars Gallery Open to Visitors

01/06/2016Written by Kevin Yates

Explore the red planet in our new interactive Mars exhibition.

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mascot Telescope Right

The planet Mars has fascinated us since our early ancestors first watched the orange dot wandering across the predictable path of the stars. The invention of the telescope revealed faint, yet tantalising features, raising the possibility that intelligent inhabitants might have altered the surface. And so began our obsession with life on Mars.

The birth of the Space Race provided our first close up look at Mars as flyby probes snapped hurried shots. Orbiting spacecraft were next, followed by landers and then rovers, which allowed us remote access to the planet’s surface. This quest to explore Mars is the subject of our most recent exhibition development.

Roving on Mars

Roving on Mars

The new gallery features an interactive Mars rover, which can be driven around a mock Martian surface. This surface is modelled on real outcrops explored by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

There are four target rocks to identify. When the rover’s probe is successfully placed before a rock the rover’s camera view switches to an analysis of the geological characteristics of the specimen.

Rocks on Earth and Mars

Rocks on Earth and Mars

A Rock Table forms the link between our Earth and Mars galleries.

It includes eight rock samples representative of the three main rock types: igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary. Among the sedimentary rocks on the table are mudstone, sandstone, and conglomerate rocks. All these rock types have been found on the red planet and also feature on our Mars rover surface.

The similarity between rocks found on Mars and those found on Earth provides a key to unlocking the secrets of Mars’ past. Geologists can apply their understanding of the processes that shaped Earth’s rocks to those they study on the surface of Mars. So, understanding how the size of pebbles is linked to the depth and flow rate of the stream in which they form enables scientists to estimate the depth and flow rate of ancient Martian streams that created the pebbles in its conglomerate rocks.

A Piece of Mars

A Piece of Mars
On loan from the Natural History Museum

Several pieces of Mars have been delivered to Earth in the form of meteorites, exposing the planet’s materials to the full scrutiny of our scientific laboratories. One such meteorite fell near the Egyptian village of El-Nakhla el-Bahariya on 28 June 1911.

A 7 gram piece of this rare Martian meteorite takes pride of place in the heart of the new Mars gallery.

This particular rock formed 1.38 billion years ago, making it much younger than meteorites originating from asteroids. It also contains more varied minerals than those found in asteroids. All of which point to its origin on the planet Mars.

Veins within the Nakhla Martian meteorite contain clay, as well as salts left by evaporation. Both indicate the presence of water on Mars when the rock formed.

Mars Through a Microscope

Mars Through a Microscope

The new gallery also has an interactive microscope designed specifically for analysing thin slices of Martian meteorites. Known as a petrographic microscope, it places incredibly thin slices of rock between special polarising filters.

Different crystals in the rock bend the polarised light in specific ways. The range of colours they produce reveals the types of minerals present within the rock. The Nakhla Martian meteorite is one of four samples to be explored with this interactive microscope.

The Mars Data Screen at the entrance to our new gallery provides access to all Mars’ vital statistics and a selection of images from orbiters and rovers exploring the planet. A news feed keeps visitors up-to-date with the latest findings and research, as our understanding of this fascinating planet continues to grow and evolve.