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Product No. HiMAP Pull-Out Supplementary Print Price: FREE with membership

Mission Possible : Curiosity’s Flight to Mars

Marsha Davis and Floyd Vest

Mathematics Topic:
Application Areas:
Science, Space, Mars
Students should be familiar with the distance formula for points in a plane. They should know that a circle is the set of points in a plane equidistant from a fixed point, the center. Activity 1 could serve as an introduction to ellipses and hence no prior knowledge of ellipses is required. In Activity 2 polar coordinates are introduced. The polar angles are measured in radians, which for students may be a new concept that requires some additional background.

Materials needed:
Graphing calculators
Access to the Internet (optional)

| ©2012 Consortium 103 | 11 pages |

Teacher Notes

On November 26, 2011, the Mars Science Laboratory (MLS) spacecraft carrying Curiosity began its trip to Mars. The orbits of planets as well as Curiosity’s path from Earth to Mars can be modeled with ellipses. In Activity 1 students are introduced to the definition of an ellipse and learn relevant terms — major axis, minor axis and eccentricity. Groundwork is laid for the derivation of the standard equation of an ellipse. At the end of the activity, students apply Kepler’s First Law to develop models for the orbits of Earth and Mars. In Activity 2 the models of the planets’ orbits are polar equations. At the end of the activity, students learn about Hohmann transfer orbits – an elliptical orbit about the sun that takes the Mars Science Laboratory (with Curiosity) from Earth to Mars.