Planetary Science: Exploring Other Worlds

By Leanne Gunn


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit another planet?

What would it look like?

How high are its mountains?

Has life ever existed there?

Planetary scientists are the explorers of these other worlds. They spend their time studying other planets providing answers to these very questions.

Planetary scientists, Dr Matthew Balme and Dr Peter Fawdon explore Mars from The Open University in Milton Keynes.

But exploring a planet millions of miles away, without ever going there yourself is no easy task.

For the past year, we have been working closely with two planetary scientists from The Open University who spend most of their time exploring the planet Mars.

Dr Matthew Balme and Dr Peter Fawdon shared with us the fascinating techniques they use to study Mars, and through an STFC funded project we turned those secrets into a brand new science show all about our neighbouring planet.


How do you explore another planet?

Planetary scientists rely on space crafts, sent from Earth to orbit Mars. These orbiters circle the planet taking images of the Martian surface and sending them back to Earth.

Mars’ giant volcano Olympus Mons! cc-by-P.Fawdon

From these images, planetary scientists can identify a whole range of features, like impact craters, volcanoes, ancient river channels and even sand dunes. By comparing these features to those found on Earth they can build a picture of not only what Mars is like today, but what it was like in the past.

What is next for UK planetary science?

The next step in Mars Exploration for UK planetary scientists is the European Space Agencies (ESA), ExoMars Rover. Set to be sent in 2020, its mission is to find evidence of past life on Mars.

Cartoon of how the Exo-Mars rover will look.

The rover is partly funded by the UK Space Agency,  but UK involvement goes far beyond just money!

UK engineers from Airbus Defense and Space are building the rover itself, and scientists and engineers from several UK institutions are working on the instruments that the rover will have on board.

Not only that but Matthew Balme and Peter Fawdon are part of a team of UK planetary scientists helping to work out where exactly this rover should land on Mars to give it the best chance of fulfilling its mission.

Here is a short video of Dr Peter Fawdon talking about what he loves about planetary science and his involvement in finding a landing site for the 2020 ExoMars Rover.

Our new science show

cc-by-science made simple

Our newest science show “Exploring Mars” is a chance for us to share with you the secrets we learn from Matt and Peter. Through this show, audiences are taken on a tour across the Martian surface. They will investigate real images of Mars, identify the features they contain and have a think about how they formed and what they mean about Mars today, and in the past.

This show is perfect for Key Stage 2 audiences and families. For more information about the show and how to book check out the Exploring Mars show page on our website.

Educational resources

While we were developing the show we stumbled across many online resources about the planet Mars. Whether you are a teacher looking for ideas for your class or just interested in finding out more about Mars yourself check out our list of favourite Mars related resources here.


sms group shot with props smallWe are science made simple, a social enterprise who perform science, maths and engineering shows to schools, festivals and public audiences.

You can find out more about what we do, check out our exciting range of shows, or sign up to our newsletter to keep updated on what we are up to!

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Posted in Geology, Physics, Space
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