Interstellar Real Estate - Defining the Habitable Zone

Overview

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.

Learner Outcomes

The learner will:

  • brainstorm and manipulate ideal conditions for life.
  • explore stellar types.
  • define the "zone of habitability" around a star.
  • develop an understanding of critical planetary mass to determine which newly discovered planets might be capable of supporting life.
  • create an imaginary habitable world that meets important criteria for an Interstellar Real Estate market.

National Science Education Standards

National Mathematics Education Standards

Materials and Technology

Scientific Background

Teacher Lesson Plans

Activity 1: Recall the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears". In the story, Goldilocks is faced with several choices during her time in the Bears' home. Evaluate which variables in Goldilock's adventure were important in selecting the items that were "just right".

Activity 2: Use strategies similar to those in Activity 1 to prioritize extra-solar planet characteristics for the possibility of harboring life.

Activity 3: Define the habitable zone for our solar system.

Activity 4: Determine how spectral class impacts the location of the habitable zone.

Activity 5: Explore the relevance of size and mass of a planet in the potential for Earth-like life.

Activity 6: Investigate real data corresponding to new planets that have been discovered outside our Solar System.

Activity 7: Create two informational advertisements for imaginary planets that will be described in an Interstellar Real Estate brochure.


Teacher Lesson Plans

Activity 1: The Goldilocks Principle

Activity Page One uses the "Goldilocks Phenomenon" to loosely define the major characteristics that a planet needs to potentially support life: having just the right temperature and type of star, orbiting at just the right distance, and with just the right gravity, rotation, and chemistry. Students evaluate which variables in Goldilock's adventure were important in selecting the items that were "just right".

Activity 2: Why is There Abundant Life on Earth?

In Activity Page Two, students prioritize planet characteristics for the possibility of harboring life.

Activity 3: Defining the Habitable Zone

Activity Page Three asks students to develop a scale model of the solar system and then determine the range of the habitable zone within our solar system.

Activity 4: The Sun is a Star?

In Activity Page Four students will be provided with a set of Star Cards and asked to order them according to various criteria. Students will investigate the correlations between spectral class of stars and location of habitable zone.

Activity 5: Size and Mass Are Important!

Activity Page Five asks students to consider the effect of planetary size and mass on habitability by providing students with hypothetical extrasolar planets and asking them to identify those in which life would most likely be found.

Activity 6: Recently Discovered New Planets

Activity Page Six provides students with real data of extrasolar planets and asks them to reason about the probability of the existence of Earth-like life on these planets.

Activity 7: Marketing Your New Extra-solar Planet

In Activity Page Seven students are asked to create two informational advertisements for imaginary planets. Each of the planets must include information on planetary mass, size, and radius as well as information about the host star. The advertisements will then be included in an Interstellar Real Estate brochure.


Lesson Debriefing

Assessment