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Life on Mars: A Dilemma Case Study in Planetary Geology
These are the teaching notes for a case study that deals with the question "Was there past life on Mars?" This issue received attention in 1996 when a group of scientists associated with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) held a press conference where they revealed evidence favoring the presence of life on Mars billions of years ago. These findings were publicized days in advance of their publication, an action that set the stage for the case, which features scientific, ethical, and personal elements. First, it deals with the basic science of the "discovery," how we know or say we know something. Second, the case touches on ethical questions and problems created by going public prematurely. Third, it involves the personal feelings of a fictional young scientist who is skeptical about the evidence and has to consider his involvement in the press conference.
Intended for grade levels:
  • High (9-12)
  • College (13-14)
Type of resource:
  • For the classroom:
    • Classroom activity
    • Case study
    • Guide for instructor
  • Policy issues
  • Space science
Technical requirements:
No specific technical requirements, just a browser required
Cost / Copyright:
No cost
Copyright 1999-2005 by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. Copyright for most of the cases on our web site is held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. We encourage educational, not-for-profit use of our cases by individal instructors. If you plan to use one of our cases in your classroom on this basis, you do not need to contact us for permission. Reproduction of a case in our collection in a printed work, such as a course-pack, requires permission, as does republication of any of our cases on a website. We strictly control access to the teaching notes for our cases. Re-publication of any kind, in whole or in part (especially of answer keys), is strictly prohibited. The only allowable use of our notes and answer keys is by individual teachers who may print or download a single copy of these materials to prepare for use of a case in their classrooms. Website reproduction of our notes and answer keys is prohibited in all instances. Any exception to these guidelines requires prior written approval. Commercial use of these cases or teaching notes is not authorized without our express written permission.
DLESE Catalog ID: DLESE-000-000-008-600
Educational standards:
  • National Science Education Standards (NSES):
    • 9-12:
      • A - Science as inquiry:
        • Understandings about scientific inquiry
      • D - Earth and space science:
        • Origin and evolution of the universe
      • F - Science in personal / social perspectives:
        • Sci. / tech. in local, national, and global challenges
      • G - History and nature of science:
        • Nature of scientific knowledge
Related resources:
This resource requires
Resource contact / Creator / Publisher:
Author: Bruce C. Allen
Department of Physics
University at Buffalo, State University of New York

Publisher: University at Buffalo, State University of New York
National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

Author: Clyde F. Herreid
Biological Sciences Department
University at Buffalo, State University of New York