In this lesson, students will learn about how space scientists used infrared spectrometers to explore Mars through an article reading. Space exploration involves a lot of chemistry, which many students are surprised to learn. There are a series of activities to help promote literacy in the science classroom related to the reading. This lesson could be easily used as plans for a substitute teacher, as most of the activities are self-guided.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This lesson will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-PS4-4: Evaluate the validity and reliability of claims in published materials of the effects that different frequencies of electromagnetic radiation have when absorbed by matter.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
    • Developing and using models.


By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Recognize that space exploration involves chemistry.
  • Understand how spectroscopy works.
  • Realize that functional groups interact differently with the same kind of energy.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Electromagnetic Spectrum
  • Infrared Spectroscopy
  • Wavelength
  • Molecular Motion
  • Organic chemistry
  • Functional groups


Teacher Preparation: 10 minutes
Lesson: Approximate times for students to complete each activity in the lesson:

  • Anticipation guide: 5 minutes
  • Reading: 20 minutes
  • History exercise: 10-15 minutes
  • Graphic organizer: 20-30 minutes


  • Reading document and any lessons that accompany it that you want to include.
  • A computer with internet access for the graphic organizer and writing exercise activity.


  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes


Lesson Overview:

The lesson includes multiple components as outlined individually below. The Reading is essential for all of the activities. Teachers can choose to do one or all of the included activities. Student handouts and corresponding answer keys are provided for each item described below:

  • Introduction: Take a few minutes to introduce the lesson with a few conversation starters. What do you know about Mars? How could chemistry be used to explore another planet? Have you read The Martian or seen the movie? How was chemistry used in that story?
  • Activity: Anticipation Guide
    • Before reading, students make some educated guesses about the importance of infrared spectrometers to the exploration of Mars. Once they read, they adjust their answers and identify correct information for incorrect statements.
  • Activity: History Exercise: Chronology of Mars Exploration
    • Order events that happened around Mars discoveries before students read. Once students read the article, they reorder the events according to the information in the reading. Create a timeline of the events.
    • Alternatively, the teacher could cut up the events into strips and have students initially order the events as a class.
  • Reading: Mars Exploration with Infrared Spectrometers
  • Activity: Graphic Organizer and Writing Exercise
    • Describe the chemical found on Mars by infrared spectrometers, as well as concepts related to the instrumentation. Students will watch a YouTube video by “Professor Dave” about spectroscopy and answer questions to help them better understand the technique.
    • Note that questions 6 – 8 are more advanced IR spectra-related questions.