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Lesson Title: Habitable Zones
May 11, 2012

Unit: Life Science - Life Out There

Grade Levels: 4-6

Connection To Curriculum: Science

Teacher Prep Time: 1 hour

Lesson Time Needed: 4-5 hours

Complexity Moderate

Keywords: temperature, metabolism, gas, extremophiles, star mass, bond albedo, distance from star, greenhouse effect of atmosphere


Activity 1 (per group)
Four 0.5-L or smaller clear beverage containers Note: all bottles need to be the same size and shape
Four 20- to 25-m balloons (8- to 10-inch)
Two packages of dry baker's yeast or equivalent
Warm tap water
Basin filled with warm water
Three thermometers
40 ml sugar (1/4 cup)
Two measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Two to four magnifying lenses
Metric rulers
Activity 2
One Activity Guide (pp. 41 – 42) for each student
One set of Life on the Edge cards (pp. 46 – 48) per four students
Poster materials
Activity 3
Internet connection to allow for each student or student group to build a planet

Students explore some of the reasons to think extraterrestrial life is possible by varying the distance from the sun, studying organisms living under extreme conditions on Earth and investigating extreme temperature effects on metabolism.

Students will:
• Experiment with gas production of yeast at different temperatures.
• Take, record and plot data from an experiment.
• Discuss extreme temperature environments on Earth and Mars.
• Observe the relationship between temperature and metabolism.
• Explore the effect of distance from the sun on a planet's average surface temperature.
• Extract key information from a reading.
• Draw conclusions and make inferences when creating sets.
• Understand extremophiles as analogs for extraterrestrial life.
• Debate the ethics of sending earth life to another world.

Front page of Habitable Zones

Lesson Guide
Habitable Zones Lesson
[120KB PDF file]



Lesson Activities and Sequence The lesson activities are extracted from three educational resources:  

  1. NASA JSC Astrobiology: Fingerprints of Life
    It's Just Right, pages 1–5
    Students will put granules of yeast and sugar into containers. By varying the temperature of the water added and recording the amount of gas as demonstrated by the balloon inflation diameters, the students observe the relationship between temperature and metabolism.
    Keywords: temperature, metabolism, gas
  2. Astrobiology in your classroom: Life on Earth… and elsewhere?
    Activity 4: What can life tolerate? pages 37–48
    Students read about extremophiles, answer questions and then play the card game reinforcing the concepts presented.
    Keywords: extremophiles
  3. The Sun's Habitable Zone
    Life in Space: Part 2 Build Your Own Planet - Planet Temperature Calculator
    This website provides a way for students to build a planet by changing the variables. Each planet received a rating of cold, hot or habitable based on the data entered by the students. Four characteristics are used: the mass of the star the planet is orbiting, the distance of the planet from the star, the bond albedo of the planet and the greenhouse effect of the planet's atmosphere.
    Keywords: star mass, bond albedo, distance from star, greenhouse effect of atmosphere

National Standards:

National Science Education Standards, NSTA
Science as Inquiry
• Understanding of scientific concepts.
• Skills necessary to become independent inquirers about the natural world.
• The dispositions to use the skills, abilities and attitudes associated with science.
Life Science
• Organisms and environments.
• Structure and function in living systems.
• Diversity and adaptations of organisms.
Earth and Space Science
• Structure of the earth system.
• Earth in the solar system.
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
• Types of resources.
• Changes in environments.
• Populations, resources and environments
• Risks and benefits.

ISTE NETS and Performance Indicators for Students, ISTE
Creativity and Innovation
• Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.
• Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.


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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator