Illustration of Mars before the dust storm with the view from the rover showing full sun, then a view after the dust storm with the rover's view of the sun blacked out

Overview

The "Pi in the Sky" math challenge gives students a chance to take part in recent discoveries and upcoming celestial events, all while using math and pi just like NASA scientists and engineers. In this problem from the set, students use the mathematical constant pi to calculate how much of Mars was covered during the giant 2018 dust storm. The answer will be revealed on March 15!

Materials

Background

Flat map of Mars with dust moving across it and covering the surface

This set of images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows a giant dust storm building up on Mars in 2018, with rovers on the surface indicated as icons. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS | › Full image and caption

In late spring of 2018, a dust storm began on Mars and eventually covered nearly the entire planet in a cloud of dust. Darkness fell across Mars’ surface, blocking sunlight used by the solar-powered Opportunity rover to charge its batteries. At its height, the storm covered all but the peak of Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. In the Deadly Dust challenge, students must use pi to calculate what percentage of the Red Planet was covered by the dust storm.

Procedures

Deadly Dust

In the summer of 2018, a large dust storm enshrouded Mars, blocking visibility over a large portion of the planet. The thick dust covered almost all of the Mars surface, blocking the vital sunlight that NASA’s solar-powered Opportunity rover needed to survive. In fact, the storm was so intense and lasted for so long that Opportunity, which had spent 14.5 years traveling around the Red Planet, never managed to regain consciousness and the mission had to come to an end.

During the height of the storm, only the upper caldera of one of the solar system’s largest volcanos, Olympus Mons, peeked out above the dust cloud. The diameter of Olympus Mons’ caldera is approximately 70 km.

What percent of the Mars surface was covered in dust at that time?

Illustration of Mars before the dust storm with the view from the rover showing full sun, then a view after the dust storm with the rover's view of the sun blacked out

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kim Orr | › Download PDF

Assessment

Infographic answer key for all of the Pi in the Sky 6 graphics and problems

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kim Orr | + Expand image

Extensions

Participate

Join the conversation and share your Pi Day Challenge answers with @NASAJPL_Edu on social media using the hashtag #NASAPiDayChallenge

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