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The Carl Sagan quotation, “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself,” applies to how and what we know about exoplanets, which are planets that exist outside our solar system.

Although these planets have only been detected as blips of shadow across faraway stars, artists have worked with scientists to imagine what these far-away planets might look like. Some of these planets are tidally locked, as seen in the Trappist datasets, which means that one side of the planet always faces the sun, similar to how one side of the moon always faces Earth. There are billions of other solar systems within the Milky Way and scientists are just beginning to explore what they might hold.

  • What makes these planets different from Earth?
  • How much do we actually know about these planets?
  • What aspects of Earth make it possible for life to exist?
  • Why is it important to protect our own planet?
  • What are the merits, risks, and ethics of space travel as a solution for problems on Earth?

Download an SOS playlist for this module.

Blue Marble and Nighttime Lights

The classic satellite shot of the Earth from space is shown with the shadow of night as if it were orbiting the sun. Use this image to contrast with exoplanets, and note that Earth is not tidally locked due to the regular shadow making its way around the entire Earth due our rotation around our axis.

For SOSx use Blue Marble - Seasonal.

Exoplanet: Earth-like

Spacecrafts like Kepler are monitoring distant stars in search of Earth-like planets, helping us learn a bit more about the possibility of life—or simply even the possibility of liquid water.

Exoplanet: TRAPPIST - 1d

These artist renderings of what exoplanets might look like give students a creative idea of how a tidally-locked planet with an entirely different atmosphere could appear.