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Astrobiology -- Are We Alone in the Universe?: Got Life?

Students (and adults) of all ages have a natural interest in "alien life," and there are a large variety of activities on this topic for each grade level. The topic of astrobiology, or the search for life in the Universe, makes connections between astronomy and planetary science, the life sciences, physics, and technology, and fits a variety of curriculum objectives.

In addition to the activities below, remember to check out Educational Resources for online interactives, 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
Students in these grades have limited familiarity with planets (and often none with planets outside of our solar system), and will have a variety of misconceptions about the environments on other planets. (For example, many children mistakenly believe that Mars is hot.) Through interdisciplinary activities, they can apply their growing familiarity with the environments on Earth and the basic needs for life to investigate the habitability of the planets in our solar system, particularly Mars. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Let's Investigate Mars Activity This lesson will help your students answer the question: What do I need to know about Mars in order to live there in the future?
Creature Feature This lesson is comprised of four parts grouped to enable students to gain appreciation of the importance making accurate scientific observations, descriptions, and drawings.
The Science Detectives Students trace the travels of Amelia Spacehart, an astronaut and radio astronomer who is searching the solar system for the source of a mysterious radio signal. Is the signal coming from an extraterrestrial intelligence? From her interplanetary NASA spacecraft, Amelia provides clues that lead students to explore features of the solar system, states of matter, lenses and magnification, and large scale measurements.

Grades 5-8
These grades can connect their growing understanding of the requirements for life and definitions of life to their studies of planets in our solar system and the growing data of newly discovered planets beyond our solar system. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Habitable Planets This activity encourages a discussion about what makes a planet habitable. Students match a series of questions with corresponding correct answers and keep track of planet characteristics in a simple table. They interpret the table to answer the basic question, "What makes a planet habitable?"
Why Follow the Water A key component of NASA's Mars Exploration Program is to "Follow the Water" to better understand the geology, climate, and potential for life on the planet. Students investigate several physical properties of liquid water to better understand why we think water is important for life. An extension activity investigates the connection between liquid water and plant productivity on Earth.
Life: Here? There? Elsewhere? The Search for Life on Venus and Mars Students investigate the phenomena of life through activities that introduce them to the multidisciplinary sciences of planetology and exobiology. Simulating Venusian and Martian conditions, they explore various means of detecting life in the atmosphere and soils of Earth. They use their findings to propose a spacecraft design for life detection on Venus and Mars.
Designer Genes for a Designer World In this series of guided inquiry activities, students explore how organisms adapt to their environments through changes in their genetic codes.
Who Can Live Here: Life in Extreme Environments Students explore the limits of life on Earth to extend their beliefs about life to include its possibility on other worlds.
Interstellar Real Estate -- Defining the Habitable Zone What makes Earth the perfect home for life as we know it? Students in this activity explore the orbital characteristics a planetary home needs to support Earth-like life forms.
The SETI Academy Planet Project In this three-volume set, fifth and sixth grade students are invited to become members of the "SETI Academy." As academy members, they explore Earth's history for clues to the possible existence of life beyond our Solar System. Designed for science classes, these volumes can be used individually or in series to create a comprehensive, thematic, scientific exploration for students.
SpaceMath: The Goldilocks Planets -- Not too hot or cold Students use a table of the planets discovered by the Kepler satellite, and estimate the number of planets in our Milky Way galaxy that are about the same size as Earth and located in their Habitable Zones. They estimate the average temperature of the planets, and study their tabulated properties using histograms.

Grades 9-14
High school and undergraduate students can step up their investigations and calculations regarding the search for life, applying physics concepts like spectroscopy and their understanding of our galactic scale and position.(Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Remote Sensing -- What Can We See When We Can't Touch? In this lesson, students discover how remote sensing is used to identify the signatures of life even when the particular life form is not directly observable.
The Rare Earth -- How Rare is Earth-Like Life? How special are the circumstances that have allowed complex life, like animals and plants, to develop on Earth? In this activity, students systematically investigate the time frame for complex life to develop on Earth.
The Drake Equation -- Estimating the Number of Civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy Students estimate the number of civilizations in the galaxy by first estimating the number of craters on the Moon and then by performing estimates of multiple-variable systems culminating in the use of the Drake Equation.
Project Haystack: The Search for Life in the Galaxy If intelligent civilizations are out there, how would they communicate with us and what would they say? How would we respond? This investigation of these questions and others uses hands-on activities, to teach about the scale and structure of the Milky Way Galaxy. Students study SETI science by using simple astronomical tools to solve some of the problems of sending and receiving messages beyond our solar system.
Tales of ... The hunt for life on other worlds This activity explains how scientists used spectroscopy to detect methane on a Jupiter-sized planet that orbits close to its parent star.
SpaceMath: NASA-funded research discovers life built with toxic chemical Students explore the DNA of an organism based on arsenic and not phosphorus.
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Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014