Remote Sensing - What Can We See When We Can't Touch?

Overview

As we search for life in the universe, it is essential that we be able to identify the chemical composition of planets and moons both inside and outside our Solar System. Remote sensing is one of the most valuable tools that scientists use to gather information about the composition of distant objects. 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.

Learner Outcomes

By completing this activity, the learner will:

  • investigate how a satellite "sees" objects on the surface of Earth.
  • learn the concepts of reflected and absorbed visible light.
  • learn about infrared light and how it is related to the temperature of an object and the emission of light.
  • explore the ideas of spectra and false color images.
  • examine remote sensing images of Mars, Io, and Titan in a search for the signatures of life in the Solar System.

National Science Education Standards

Materials and Technology

Scientific Background

Teacher Lesson Plans

Activity 1: Examine the wind in the context of remote sensing.

Activity 2: Learn how a satellite "sees" objects on the Earth to better understand the ideas of reflected and absorbed light.

Activity 3: Differentiate between light that is absorbed, reflected, or emitted within familiar contexts.

Activity 4: Discover how infrared light is related to temperature and emitted light.

Activity 5: Utilize the Spectral Catalog to draw the spectral lines of chemicals exhibited in several images of Earth.

Activity 6: Examine false color images of Mars and determine what information can be learned about the red planet through remote sensing.

Activity 7: Examine false color images of Io, a moon of Jupiter, and determine what information can be learned about the Jovian moon through remote sensing.

Activity 8: Examine false color images of Titan, a moon of Saturn, and determine what information can be learned about the moon through remote sensing.

Activity 9: Create unique remote sensing images of planets that could harbor life.


Teacher Lesson Plans

Activity 1: Seeing the Wind

Activity Page One asks students to investigate the phenomenon we call "the wind" in an effort to understand the process of remote sensing.

Activity 2: Seeing Like Our Eye

Activity Page Two provides students a picture of a satellite gathering images of Earth's surface. Students are then asked to reason about reflected vs. absorbed light.

Activity 3: Where is the Light Coming From?

Activity Page Three introduces students to the concept of emitted light by examining two cases involving visible light.

Activity 4: How Hot Does Your Potato Look?

In Activity Page Four, students are presented a hypothetical situation with two potatoes, one hot and one cold. Students become familiar with the relationship between infrared light and temperature and emitted light within the context of a household kitchen.

Activity 5: Light Has a Fingerprint?

Activity Page Five asks students to sketch the line spectra of different chemicals present in various images of Earth.

Activity 6: Do We See the Signs of Life on Mars?

Activity Page Six presents two false color images of Mars to the students. Students are then asked about the type of information presented in the images and how this relates to the possiblity of life on Mars.

Activity 7: Do We See the Signs of Life on Io?

In Activity Page Seven students examine two false color images of Io, a moon of Jupiter. Students are asked to determine the type of information provided in the images and whether or not it suggests the ability for life to exist on the Jovian moon.

Activity 8: Do We See the Signs of Life on Titan?

Activity Page Eight presents two images of Titan, a moon of Saturn. One image was taken in the visible spectrum and the other in infrared. Students are asked to reason about the information provided and how it pertains to the possibility of life on Titan.

Activity 9: Creating False Color Images

Activity Page Nine asks students to create their own unique remote sensing images.


Lesson Debriefing

Assessment