Learning Exercise

The Search for Life in the Solar System

This is an activity that has students search the nine planets web site for the requirements for life; warmth, water and organic molecules. Students will examine the nine planets for these requirements and then choose 4 more place in the solar system and examine them. Based on what they find out about the planets, and the four locations they choose, students will determine if it is possible for life to exist or have existed in the past somewhere in our solar system.
Course: Earth Science

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The Search for Life in Our Solar System

There are three criteria that must be met in order for life to occur. They are
__________, _______________ and _____________ _______________.

In the activity you will search our solar system for these three criteria and
see if it is possible for life to occur, either in the past or the present, at
various locations. There are other structures in the solar system besides the
planets, so we will not limit our search to just these locations. All of the
information that you need can be found on the web site
http://www.nineplanets.org/, but you may use any other web site you wish.


Temperature Acceptable Temperature for Life Evidence of Water Organic Materials
Is Life Possible

Think about some of the things found in the solar system besides planets. Now
examine four other possible locations in the solar system that could possibly
meet the requirements for life. Make a data table similar to the one above and
fill it in with the data that you find. Note: It is OK if you are wrong. The
only way to determine if there is life somewhere is to eliminate all of the


Temperature Acceptable Temperature for Life Evidence of Water Organic Materials
Is Life Possible

1. What planets met the requirements for possibly having life?
2. What planets were immediately eliminated due to temperature?
33. Describe the difference between the terrestrial planets and the gas giant
4. Was Pluto an acceptable planet for life? Why or why not?
5. What are three other things in solar system besides planets?
6. Did you find any locations that met the requirements for life from the four
locations you selected? Where?
7. Imagine you are an astronomer examining a moon around Jupiter. While
observing the moon you see something that resembles ice on the surface. What
further questions and observations do you need make?
8. Where is the next place we will need to look for life?

What did you learn from this activity? Write one paragraph describing what you
learned from this activity and possible questions that have arisen while doing
this activity.

Going Further
Attend the show Oceans in Space at the Fresno State Planetarium. Bring me your
ticket stub and a short (2 paragraph) summary of the program.

Technical Notes

A follow up activity or discussion could be about the examination of Europa for liquid water under its ice covered surface and the discoveries made by the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.


Have the students brainstorm in small groups to determine what the requirements for life are. Discuss what it is that makes the Earth so special. Lead them to 3 basic requirements for life, warmth (it can be neither too hot or too cold), water (evidence of gaseous, liquid or solid water) and organic molecules (methane, ammonia, nucleic acids, etc) Discuss biogenesis and theories of how life began on the Earth.



Type of Task

Learning Objectives

California Content Standards
1A Students know how the differences and similarities among the sun, the terrestrial planets, and the gas planets may have been established during the formation of the solar system
4D * Students know the differing greenhouse conditions on Earth, Mars, and Venus; the origins of those conditions; and the climatic consequences of each.