National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
Follow this link to skip to the main content
YSS Logo
YSS Logo
YSS Logo
NASA Banner
Return to Solar System Exploration
TOPICS
  Educational Resources Background Featured Missions Solar System Explorers
   Overview   News   Classrooms   Organizations & Clubs 

The search for planets. Learn how distant worlds are being discovered: Discovering New Worlds
Classrooms


Students of all ages may have a fundamental misconception that would need to be dealt with before addressing the activities relating to the discovery of new planets: because many students can confuse our solar system with our galaxy and universe, students may mistakenly believe that newly discovered exoplanets were found within our own solar system. Defining solar system and comparing our solar system with our galaxy may be an important first step before exploring new worlds.

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

Activities

Grades K-4
For students at an elementary level, it may be difficult to introduce the concept of exoplanets in any depth; simply mapping distant stars for which we have found planets may be sufficient. The concept of the Venus transit is also a difficult one, aside from modeling Venus' orbit around the sun as seen from the Earth, and observing Venus blocking the sun in person or on video. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Morning Star and Evening Star Students participate in a kinesthetic model that demonstrates that Venus is visible in the evening and morning sky. This activity is from Planetarium Activities for Student Success (http://planetarium-activities.org).
Where Are the Distant Worlds? Star Maps Use a star map to find constellations and to identify stars with extrasolar planets. (Northern Hemisphere only, naked eye)
SpaceMath: The Earth-like Planet Gliese 518g Students use data for the Gliese 581 planetary system to draw a scaled model of the locations and sizes of the discovered planets. They also identify the location and span of the Habitable Zone for this planetary system.


Grades 5-8
Students at this level should be able to connect their understanding of the relationship between our solar system and our galaxy to the current and recent findings of new planets. They will begin to be able to apply their understanding of forces and motion to planets' orbiting the sun, and to exoplanets orbiting other stars. In addition, they can model the inner solar system to interpret the Venus transit and apply that understanding of transits to the method that Kepler is using to find new exoplanets. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Detecting Planet Transits Students model NASA's Kepler mission observations of planetary transits (a planet moving in front of a star) by standing in a circle with model star (light bulb) in the center, and observing, through rolled up paper viewing tubes, a "bead" planet orbiting the star.
Kepler Star Wheel Participants make a constellation map of the night sky which shows the locations of many of the discovered planetary systems. Kepler Star Wheel is based on Uncle Al's Star Wheels [http://uncleal.net/] from the Hands-On Universe project [http://www.handsonuniverse.org/]. Uncle Al's Starwheels are in turn derived from Sky Challengers from Lawrence Hall of Science [http://lawrencehallofscience.stores.yahoo.net/skychallenger.html]
Transit Tracks In this investigation, from the NASA Kepler mission Education and Public Outreach team, students describe a transit and the conditions when a transit may be seen; describe how a planet's size and distance from its star affects the behavior of transits; and interpret graphs of brightness versus time to deduce information about planet-star systems. The activity was developed in concert with revision of the Full Option Science System (FOSS) Planetary Science course for middle school [http://lhsfoss.org/scope/folio/html/PlanetaryScience/1.html]
Transit Math This pdf document includes dozens of math problems and answers related to eclipses, transits and occultations, with an emphasis on transits of Venus through the centuries. The Table of Contents clearly separates middle school level problems from high school problems.
SpaceMath: Discovering Earth-like Worlds by their Color Students use recent measurements of the reflected light from solar system bodies to graph their colors and to use this in classifying new planets as Earth-like, moon-like or Jupiter-like.
SpaceMath: Kepler-- Earth-like planets by the score! I II Students use recent Kepler satellite data summarized in tabular form to estimate the number of planets in the Milky Way galaxy that are about the same size as our Earth, and located in their Habitable Zones were liquid water may exist.
SpaceMath: Kepler Spies Five New Planets Students count squares on a Bizarro Star to study the transit of a planet, and determine the diameter of the planet. This demonstrates the basic principle used by NASA's Kepler satellite to search for Earth-sized planets orbiting distant stars.
SpaceMath: Kepler's First Look at 700 Transiting Planets A statistical study of the 700 transits seen during the first 43 days of the mission.


Grades 9-14
High School and college students can examine the data from transits and use it to calculate the planet's size and distance from its star. They may also be able to examine new data and develop and test their own hypotheses with the information. A variety of numerical and visual data sets are available in the Educational Resources section. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Transit Tracks In this investigation from the NASA Kepler mission Education and Public Outreach team, students describe a transit and the conditions when a transit may be seen; describe how a planet's size and distance from its star affects the behavior of transits; and interpret graphs of brightness versus time to deduce information about planet-star systems.
Searching for Protoplanetary Disks Students download NASA Hubble Space Telescope views of star-forming regions in nebulae and look for evidence of planetary systems forming beyond our own solar system.
A Case of the Wobbles: Finding Extra-Solar Planets Students plot and analyze NASA data to determine the period of an invisible planet orbiting a wobbling star.
Search for Extrasolar Planets In this 5E series of activities, students study the concepts of transits, take and examine data of transits, and apply physical models to determine the properties of planets.
Transit Math This pdf document includes dozens of math problems and answers related to eclipses, transits and occultations, with an emphasis on transits of Venus through the centuries. The Table of Contents clearly separates middle school level problems from high school problems.
SpaceMath: Estimating the Temperatures of Exoplanets Students review the basic properties of ellipses by exploring the orbits of newly-discovered planets orbiting other stars. They also use a simple formula to determine the temperatures of the planets from their orbits.
SpaceMath: Exoplanet Orbits and the Properties of Ellipses Given the formula for the orbits of newly-discovered planets, students determine the basic properties of the elliptical orbits for the planets.
DPS Slidesets These four-slide powerpoints by the Division of Planetary Science include basic information for college-level introductory courses. Many of them are on the topic of recently discovered exoplanets.
All Topics
Back to YSS Home
Featured YSS Resource: Space 365 app � see what NASA events happened each day of the year. Featured YSS Resource: Solar System Lithograph Set Featured YSS Resource: NASA App - All of NASA at your fingertips
Awards and Recognition   Solar System Exploration Roadmap   Contact Us   Site Map   Print This Page
NASA Official: Kristen Erickson
Advisory: Dr. James Green, Director of Planetary Science
Outreach Manager: Alice Wessen
Curator/Editor: Phil Davis
Science Writer: Autumn Burdick
Producer: Greg Baerg
Webmaster: David Martin
> NASA Science Mission Directorate
> Budgets, Strategic Plans and Accountability Reports
> Equal Employment Opportunity Data
   Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act
> Information-Dissemination Policies and Inventories
> Freedom of Information Act
> Privacy Policy & Important Notices
> Inspector General Hotline
> Office of the Inspector General
> NASA Communications Policy
> USA.gov
> ExpectMore.gov
> NASA Advisory Council
> Open Government at NASA
Last Updated: 16 Apr 2014