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
  Educational Resources Background Featured Missions Solar System Explorers
   Overview   News   Classrooms   Organizations & Clubs 

Our Evolving Understanding of the Solar System: New Data, New Ideas

Students need to learn the process of science -- the way that new data can support or alter existing theories and inspire new ideas. This lesson is pertinent to all of science, and can be studied each year, in new ways. In addition to the activities, remember to check out Education Resources for video, podcasts and more!

Be sure to submit photographs, artwork, music, or words of students enjoying these activities to Share Your Stories.


Grades K-4
There are not many existing solar system activities that specifically relate the process of revising previous theories based on new data; instead, many elementary activities focus on the students developing their own ideas based on observations. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Exploring Origins The goal of Exploring Origins is to help students understand the cumulative nature of scientific knowledge and technological advancements and to understand the theoretical basis for the Genesis mission. By exploring ideas about the origins of the solar system held by various cultures throughout the ages, students will gain an understanding that the Genesis mission is providing data to answer age-old questions. This activity is geared towards grades 4 and up.
Exploring Crustal Materials from a Mystery Planet Students observe the characteristics of "crustal material" samples, classify material into groups, infer causes for the characteristics of the various samples, and infer the history of the mystery planet.
Inside Mars -- Puzzling Patterns -- Where Does Volcanism Occur? Students compare volcano maps of Earth and Mars and identify patterns, similarities and differences.

Grades 5-8
There are a variety of activities for these grades that examine how our definitions and understanding of planets and our solar system have changed as a result of new data. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Dwarf Planets as a New Way of Thinking About an Old Solar System This middle school activity utilizes a researched-based instructional strategy called direct vocabulary instruction to help students understand the new definitions of planet and dwarf planet.
What is a Planet? Students learn about the characteristics of planets, comets, asteroids, and trans-Neptunian objects through a classification activity. Students can then apply what they have learned by participating in a formal debate about a solar system object discovered by the New Horizons spacecraft and by defining the term "planet."
Changing Theories About Mars Once thought to be home to life forms that built canals, the view of Mars' habitability has changed significantly over the past several decades. Keeping open-minded about new information allows scientists to fully explore options. Open-mindedness is important to the culture of science.
Conflicting Theories for the Origin of the Moon There are different views on the origin of the Moon. Investigation results can be interpreted in different ways which are sometimes conflicting. Critical thinking and matching evidence with theories are skills that are highly valued in science.

Grades 9-14
At this age, students should be comfortable gathering data to formulate their own ideas, and challenging hypotheses. Additional videos, podcasts and more that explore some of the new scientific theories that may interest the students are available in this month's Educational Resources. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Virtual Venus Students use the Slooh Online Observatory to investigate the phases of Venus, and explore how Galileo's observations of Venus helped to revolutionize our understanding of the solar system by demonstrating that Venus must orbit the sun rather than Earth. See how students can make the same set of enlightening observations.
In the Footsteps of Galileo: Observing the Moons of Jupiter Students learn about the scientific method and do a simplified version of Galileo's pioneering observations of Jupiter's moons, which similarly supported a new model of our solar system.
Tales of ... Dust storms seen on Mars This activity details the weather on Mars from the earliest account in 1796 to 2001. This information can be used to introduce the idea that other planets experience seasons like Earth, as students learn how new data changes our understanding of Mars.
Discoveries in Planetary Science Slide Sets These slide presentations for use in undergraduate classes cover new discoveries in planetary science. They are available in Spanish and English.
All Topics
Back to YSS Home
Featured YSS Resource: Night Sky Network Go StarGaze iPhone App - FREE! Featured YSS Resource: Eyes on the Solar System - Explore our galactic neighborhood in 3D! Featured YSS Resource: Solar System Exploration Website
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
> NASA Advisory Council
> Open Government at NASA
Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014