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Gas Giants, Atmospheres and Weather: Windy Worlds

Students have a variety of misconceptions about atmospheres. Many students do not realize that many other planets have atmospheres, and that not all atmospheres are breathable. Students may also believe that the gas giants are entirely gaseous, like giant clouds, rather than consisting of a thin atmosphere of gas, above much denser liquid layers and possibly solid cores.

Many misconceptions about weather have been researched; more information is at

In addition to the activities below, remember to check out Education Resources for presentation materials, videos, podcasts, and more! Be sure to submit photographs, artwork, music, or words of students enjoying these activities to Share Your Stories.


Grades K-4
For these grades, many activities focus on Earth's atmosphere, and include observations of weather patterns. They may also enjoy models of planets that indicate either the thickness of their atmospheres or their composition. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
S'COOL Lesson Plans In the S'COOL project students gather data to help NASA study the ways in which clouds may affect the Earth's climate. The project includes a large number of lesson plans on clouds, temperatures and weather; most are geared toward elementary students. Check Educator Resources for S'COOL materials, presentations and more.
Candy Gas Giants Activity Students make two edible or non-edible models of the Earth and one of their favorite gas giants. They explore the differences in size and composition of layers through choices of materials.
Observing, Describing and Identifying Clouds Students observe and sketch clouds, describing their forms. They generate their own descriptions and then move toward building a more scientific vocabulary. They then correlate their descriptions with the standard classifications.
Discover Earth: Hands-on Activities This module to support hands-on Earth science explorations includes several activities for this age, including Weather Wall, Weather: the Many Faces of Mother Nature and Weather Stations. Educators are invited to download the activities, supporting reading games and facilitator resources.

Grades 5-8
Students in this age group can apply their understanding of Earth's atmosphere to other planets, and begin to investigate how we study the atmospheric compositions and characteristics of planets and moons (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Great Red Spot Pinwheel Students kinesthetically create a model of Jupiter's Red Spot, rotating like a pinwheel around a central point to demonstrate the atmospheric dynamics of the cyclonic storm.
Goldilocks and the Three Planets Students determine what some of Earth, Venus and Mars' atmosphere is composed of and then mathematically compare the amount of the greenhouse gas, CO2, on the planets Venus, Earth and Mars in order to determine which has the most.
Live from the Hubble Space Telescope In this series of activities, students compare the weather, plot the movement of weather systems, and observe a fundamental motion of air responsible for certain large cloud formations on Earth and other planets, and report these observations.
Astro-Venture: Atmospheric Science Educator Guide
Students role-play NASA occupations, as they search for and build a planet with the necessary characteristics for human habitation. Atmospheric science is one of several modules, and includes nine lessons.
The Goldilocks Principle: A Model of Atmospheric Gases This activity introduces students to the atmospheric differences between the three "sister" planets in a graphic and hands-on way, using jelly beans or cotton balls to model different atmospheric gases. Students will use this understanding later as they begin to appreciate the scope and importance of the greenhouse effect on Earth.
Jupiter's Family Secrets: Weather Stations In this series of brief station activities, students may examine the turbulent weather that creates Jupiter's distinctive banded appearance.
SpaceMath: Investigating the Atmosphere of Super-Earth GJ 1214b Students create a model of the interior of an exoplanet using its mass, average density and radius as constraints to determine the thickness of its atmosphere.
SpaceMath: Carbon Dioxide Increases Students study the Keeling Curve to determine the rates of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Discover Earth: Hands-on Activities This module to support hands-on Earth science explorations includes several activities for this age, including Weather Stations and Climate Tour. Educators are invited to download the activities, supporting reading games and facilitator resources.

Grades 9-14
These students may want to take their investigations beyond the modeling stage, to working with actual data to study patterns and relationships in the Earth System. Also consider using the several data sources in Education Resources for further open inquiry investigations! (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Globe Visualization Student Activities There are a variety of "Looking at Data" activities regarding Earth's atmosphere near the bottom of this page, ranging from air temperature, to clouds, ozone, and more.
Air Quality at Earth Observatory These citizen science activities could be used in a high school classroom to gather and submit data on local air quality, and to analyze satellite data.
MY NASA DATA Lessons MY NASA DATA microsets are created using data from NASA Earth science satellite missions and provide information on Earth's atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, ocean, and land surface. There are a variety of lessons using these data.
Space Math: Hubble: The Changing Atmosphere of Pluto Based on a recent press release, students determine the aphelion and perihelion of Pluto's elliptical orbit using the properties of ellipses, then calculate the temperature of Pluto at these distances to estimate the thickness of Pluto's atmosphere and its changes during its orbit around the sun.
Space Math: Exponential Functions and Atmospheric 'Scale Heights' A study of the way a planet's atmosphere changes as its temperature is changed using exponential functions.
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Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014