In this lesson we are going to explore and compare the topography of Earth and Mars. [First, talk about the difference between geography and topography. Geography comes from two Greek words: geo, which means earth, and graphia, which means description or writing. So geography is any writing about or description of the Earth.]
Topography comes from two Greek words also: topos and graphia.
You already know what graphia means: writing or description. Topos means "place." So the basic definition of topography is "any writing or description about place."
So what's the difference between geography and topography?
Geography focuses only on the planet Earth. We can't talk about the geography of Saturn, for example. Topography, by contrast, is the study of any place in our universe, including other planets in our solar system.
Geography includes any description of the Earth, including not only its land and the features of that land, but also its inhabitants, climate, and all natural and historical events that occur on Earth.
Topography, instead, focuses on studying and mapping the surface shape and features of places, such as how much water and land covers the surface of a planet, what kind of land it is, whether there are mountains, and so on. Has anyone seen a topographic map? These maps show the features of the surface, such as the elevation of mountains. [Show students a flat topographical map and a relief topographic map.]
Summing up: Topography covers all planets, including Earth, and it studies only the surface of the planet. Geography refers only to the land of Earth and it includes a study of the people who live there.
We are going on a virtual tour of the topography first of Earth and then of Mars using the WorldWide Telescope (WWT), virtualization software that combines many kinds of scientific data to give you an interactive, 3-D view of our universe. As we tour, listen for the information asked for on the Student Handout and fill it in. Once we have finished our tour together, you will have an opportunity to use the WWT to explore one topographical feature of Earth and one of Mars by yourself, compare them, and present your findings.
Note: You can adjust this lesson for your student's ages and needs.