Write Your Way to Mars


During this time of quarantine, I’m thankful for the many online collections that allow us to imaginatively visit museums, zoos, aquariums, and even other planets from home. The University of Arizona HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera makes it possible to see incredibly detailed images of the surface of Mars, and through the writing prompts below, we invite you to imagine yourself in those strange yet oddly familiar landscapes.   

HiRISE is a camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, designed and built under the direction of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. The camera’s telescopic lens allows it to take photographs at higher resolutions than any previous mission, permitting scientists to distinguish features as small as one meter across. HiRISE sees Mars in a different part of the visible light spectrum than would the human eye; many of the images presented here are “false color,” or not the colors that you would see if you were looking that these landscapes directly.  

We hope you will enjoy this small sampling of images from HiRISE, and that you will write a poem starting from the questions and prompts below. Or, dive into the full library of HiRISE images for inspiration by visiting www.uahirise.org. Images from HiRISE are within the public domain.

The Color Wonderland of Mawrth Vallis

Multicolored landforms on Mars
Mawrth Vallis has some of the most spectacular color variations seen anywhere on Mars. This color variability is due to a range of hydrated minerals—water caused alteration of these ancient deposits—which is why this site is of interest to study the past habitability of Mars. (Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

1.    Imagine yourself standing in this landscape. Write five lines that begin with the words “I see.”  

2.    What would it be like to be in this landscape alone?  

Curiosity Rover at Pahrump Hills

Yellow rocks on Mars with Curiosity Rover visible
The Mars rover Curiosity is exploring the Pahrump Hills in Gale Crater. The region contains sedimentary rocks that scientists believe formed in the presence of water.  The bright features in the image are sedimentary rock and the dark areas are sand. (Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

3.    What does this photograph make you think about the planet Earth?  

4.    Imagine yourself hovering above this landscape. Make a list of what you notice.   

An Inverted Crater

Blue and white landforms on Mars
There is a circular feature in this observation that appears to stand above the surrounding terrain. This feature is probably an inverted crater: a once-normal appearing impact crater that was filled in with sediment. The fill became indurated, or hardened, until it was more resistant to subsequent erosion than the surrounding material. (Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

5.    Choose a word from the photograph’s caption that is completely unfamiliar to you. Write a poem using this word as the title.  

6.    What would it be like to be in this landscape with 100 other people?  

Frosty Alcoves on Kaiser Crater Dunes

Bright red sand and a shadowed area on Mars
In this image, the dunes in Kaiser Crater are partially free of seasonal ice, with the contrast making it easy to see the ripples. Deep alcoves have been carved at the crest of the dune. We hypothesize that this is the result of the gas coming from the dry ice, destabilizing the sand at the crest. (Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

7.    Imagine a moment from your childhood reset in this landscape. What happens?  

8.    What does this photograph make you think about your neighborhood?  

Layered Yardangs

Tan and blue yardangs on Mars
This observation shows terrain on the floor of a large, degraded crater. Many sharp ridges are visible across the image, all of them aligned in a similar direction. There are patches of dark sand in the low areas between the ridges and on the ridge slopes. What creates these sharp ridges? This layered terrain has been sculpted by the wind. The aligned ridges are called yardangs, which are formed in areas where the dominant erosional force is the wind. Yardangs are also found on Earth, usually in very dry areas. (Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

 9.    Choose a word from the photograph’s caption that you particularly like. Write a poem using this word as the title.  

10.  What would it be like to be in this landscape if you were a scientific instrument?  

Drag Folds in the North Polar Layered Deposits

Bright red surface of Mars
This image shows what looks like drag folds, where rock layers bend (fold) before they break in a fault. However, the North Polar layered deposits are composed of ice, and this is a large scale for such a feature, compared to drag folds on Earth.(Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

11.  Imagine yourself standing in this landscape with your eyes closed. Write five lines that begin   with the words “I hear.”  

12.  What does this photograph make you think about the future?  

These writing prompts were originally presented alongside The Poetry of Spaceflight exhibit in Fall 2016.