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  • Tips & Modifications


    The Vastness of Space activity is part of a sequence of activities in the Is There Life in Space? lesson. The activities work best if used in sequence.


    This activity may be used individually or in groups of two or three students. It may also be modified for a whole-class format. If using as a whole-class activity, use an LCD projector or interactive whiteboard to project the activity. Turn embedded questions into class discussions. Uncertainty items allow for classroom debates over the evidence.


    You can save student data for grading online by registering your class for free at the High-Adventure Science portal page.

    1. Activate students' prior knowledge about our solar system.

    Tell students that Earth is the only planet in our solar system known to have life. Ask:

    • What factors do you think are necessary for life to exist on a planet? (Some commonly known factors for life include liquid water, an atmosphere, and having energy sources. Some students may say that oxygen is necessary. If this happens, you can point out that there are some organisms on Earth that do not require oxygen.)


    Tell students that scientists are looking for planets and moons that might have characteristics necessary for supporting life. Explain that scientists have already found thousands of planets outside our solar system. Let students know that they will be learning how scientists search for planets and how they determine whether the planets they find have the potential to support life.


    2. Discuss the role of uncertainty in the scientific process.

    Introduce students to the concept of uncertainty in the scientific process. Explain that science is a process of learning how the world works and that scientists do not know the “right” answers when they start to investigate a question. Tell students that they can see examples of scientists' uncertainty in determining whether or not the data collected from telescopes show the presence of planets.


    Show the Kepler Planet Candidates graph from the NASA Exoplanet Archive. Tell students that the red dots indicate potential planets the Kepler telescope has detected and the blue dots indicate the planets the Kepler telescope detected and have been confirmed by other means. Ask:

    • Why do you think there are more red dots than blue dots (more potential planets than confirmed planets)? (The telescope may detect planets that are not there. The technology may not be good enough to tell the difference between a planet and some other phenomenon.)
    • Why do scientists need to independently confirm the presence of planets? (Scientists need to check the accuracy of the telescope's predictions of a planet. If the telescope shows a planet and the scientists confirm that it is a planet, then the scientists can spend more time trying to learn about the planet.)

    Let students know that they will be asked questions about the certainty of their predictions and that they should think about what scientific and model-based data are available as they assess their certainty with their answers. Encourage students to discuss the scientific evidence with each other to better assess their level of certainty with their predictions.


    3. Have students launch the interactive The Vastness of Space.

    Provide students with the link to the interactive The Vastness of Space. Divide students into groups of two or three, with two being the ideal grouping to allow students to share computer work stations. Tell students they will be working through a series of pages of data with questions related to the data. Ask students to work through the activity in their groups, discussing and responding to questions as they go.


    NOTE: You can access the Answer Key for students' questions—and save students' data for online grading—through a free registration on the High-Adventure Science portal page.


    Tell students this is Activity 1 in the Is There Life in Space? lesson. 


    4. Discuss the issues.

    After students have completed the activity, bring the groups back together and lead them in a discussion focusing on these questions:

    • How do scientists detect planets? (Scientists use light from stars to detect planets.)
    • Why do scientists have to use stars to find planets? (Planets don't give off their own light so they are difficult to see in the darkness of space. Stars are bright, so they are easier to see.)
    • How do scientists use light from stars to find planets? (Scientists can use light from stars in two ways: [1] they can look at the movement of the light towards and away from Earth to find a wobble in the star's orbit, and [2] they can look for dimming of the light from the star.)
    • What factors are necessary for life to exist on a planet? (Scientists think that liquid water is necessary for life. Living things also need a source of energy and a place to exist [rocky body, such as a planet, moon, or asteroid].)

    Informal Assessment

    1. Check students' comprehension by asking students the following questions:

    • Why do scientists use stars to find planets?
    • What factors are necessary for life?
    • Why is it difficult to figure out if there is life on other planets?
    • Why are some scientists confident that they will find life on another planet?

    2. Use the answer key to check students' answers on embedded assessments.

  • Subjects & Disciplines

    • Space sciences
  • Science
    • Earth science