Life in Space:
Part 2: Build Your Own Planet

Questions about these lessons?
"The History of Life on Earth" and "Markers for the Timeline" are in Adobe Reader (.pdf) format. All other lessons on this page open as Microsoft Word documents. This allows teachers to make changes and adaptations for their particular classrooms. Adobe Reader versions of these lessons are available on the Adobe Reader page. You can download the Adobe Reader program here.

Part 2 Overview

The Planet Temperature Calculator
(The program requires Macromedia's Flash plug-in.)

This program was created for use by students working on Part 2 of this unit. It calculates a rough approximation of the average surface temperature of a planet based on 4 basic physical characteristics: the mass of the star that the planet is orbiting, the planet's distance from that star, the bond albedo of the planet and the greenhouse effect of the planet's atmosphere. The program opens in a new window.

The program was developed by Glenn Simonelli and Richard Durisen, in consultation with Frank ("Buddy") Morris, Jiangmei Wu, and David Goodrum of the Teaching & Learning Technologies Centers at Indiana University.

Here is a brief technical article that explains the math behind the calculator.


"Planet Preference Survey"
Introduction - Your Mission
Lesson plan for introduction

Students choose 6 different characteristics of the planet they plan to explore. The next five lessons examine the impact of those choices.
Survey PowerPoint Presentation
These images can be used when presenting the survey.

Lesson 1 – The Sun’s Habitable Zone
Lesson plan for lesson 1

Students use the Planet Temperature Calculator to explore the effect of distance from the Sun on a planet’s average surface temperature. They create graphs of distance vs. temperature in Microsoft Excel and use the graphs to determine our Sun’s habitable zone.

Lesson 2 – Your Nearest Star’s Habitable Zone
Lesson plan for lesson 2

Next the students determine the habitable zone of the star that their planet is orbiting and evaluate the position of their planet relative to their star’s habitable zone. This lesson also uses the Planet Temperature Calculator.

Lesson 3 – Albedo
Lesson plan for lesson 3

A hands-on lesson in which students measure the temperature under black and white domes and use this information to make assumptions about the effect of the albedo of a planet on that planet’s average surface temperature. This activity takes place outdoors in sunny weather. An indoor version is included in the lesson plan. This can be substituted in case of bad weather.
Albedo PowerPoint Presentation
These images can be used when discussing albedo.

Lesson 4 – Atmosphere
Lesson plan for lesson 4

Another hands-on lesson. This time students measure the effect of a clear enclosure on the temperature of the air inside it. Using the Planet Temperature Calculator, students then make assumptions about how a planet’s average surface temperature is influenced by its greenhouse effect. This activity takes place outdoors in sunny weather. An indoor version is included in the lesson plan. This can be substituted in case of bad weather.

Lesson 5 – Final Planet Details
Lesson plan for lesson 5

Students use the Planet Temperature Calculator to determine the average surface temperature of the planet that they are exploring. They input the values for albedo and greenhouse that they chose during the 2 previous lessons and determine whether or not water is likely to exist as a liquid on their planet.

Lesson 6 – Is It Living?
Lesson plan for lesson 6

Students examine samples “collected” from their planet and try to determine if the sample object is living, presents evidence of life or is abiotic.

Lesson 7 – Big Life or Tiny?
Lesson plan for lesson 7

Students examine pond water under a microscope. After counting the number of living things under the microscope they infer how many microscopic versus macroscopic things are living in their classroom. Students use this information to predict the size of any life forms that might exist on their planet. Students should collect water samples at least one week before doing this lesson.

“The History of Life on Earth”
Lesson 8 – History of Life
Lesson plan for lesson 8

Markers for the Timeline
This lesson begins with a short article about evolution and the history of life on Earth. Students then mark a timeline with important milestones in the development of life on Earth. Students then consider the age of their planet in reference to this timeline and imagine how life on their planet might have evolved during this time.

Assignment 1 – Discovering a Life Form
Assignment 1 notes for teachers
In which students are asked to put all of the information learned during the previous lessons together. They “discovery” life on their planet and create a drawing and description of the life that they have discovered. Students then share their life forms with the other members of their group and then as a group decide how these life forms interact with each other.

Assignment 2 – Poster and Presentation
Assignment 2 notes for teachers
The culminating activity is a poster session. The groups make posters and share information with their classmates about their planets and the life forms that they have discovered.

The development of these lessons has been funded through an EPO supplement to research grant NAG5-11964 Durisen from NASA's Origins of Solar Systems Program. Permission is granted to reproduce the lessons contained on this web site for educational or other non-commercial use. Commercial use of these pages is prohibited without the prior written consent of Glenn Simonelli

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Part 1 – Colonize the Solar System

Last updated September 1, 2010
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Background image courtesy of NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (USCS/LO), M. Clampin (STSci), G. Hartig (STSci), and the ACS Science team