Book a Flight to Another Solar System

Photo credit: NASA (Public Domain)

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.

Guiding Questions

  • 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?

Datasets

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  • 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.

  • 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: Kepler-10b

    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.

  • 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.

  • Milky Way Panorama: Alpha Centauri Label

    The Milky Way contains billions of other solar systems. Alpha Centauri is our Solar System's closest neighbor, and likely contains exoplanets.

External Resources

Cross-cutting Concepts

  • C2: Cause and Effect
  • C3: Scale Proportion and Quantity

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS1.A: The Universe and its Stars
  • ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System