Lunar and Planetary Institute

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Our Place in Space
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Life in Space

Activity At A Glance
Making a Habitable World

To learn the factors that influence the habitability of a planet or moon and our own Earth!

The activities are designed to build on each other, from part 1 to 2 to 3. Given time constraints, part 1 can be undertaken as a separate activity. Likewise, parts 1 and 2 or parts 1 and 3 can be combined as an activity.

Part 1: Habitability Game — Children play a cooperative board game that introduces them to five habitability factors water, energy, nutrients, atmosphere, and temperature and challenges them to gather these factors to create a habitable planet.

Part 2: Build a Habitable Planet — After discussing the concepts and vocabulary introduced in the game, children apply their understanding of habitability factors and create a model (or drawing) of a planet that can support life on its surface (i.e., an Earth-like planet).

Part 3: Build an Uninhabitable Planet — Children build a second model a planet whose surface is hostile to life but whose sub-surface environment a mile or two down can support life. They conclude by discussing questions about what planets and moons scientists consider possible places for extraterrestrial life and whether extraterrestrial life is more likely to exist on or below the surface in these places.


  • Life requires certain conditions, which are characterized by a set of factors.
  • Important habitability factors are water, energy, nutrients, atmosphere, and temperature.
  • Surface life requires an atmosphere to retain heat, provide chemicals needed for life (e.g., CO2), and shield the surface from harmful radiation (e.g., ultraviolet light).
  • Scientists think extraterrestrial life is most likely to exist below a planet's or moon's surface.
  • Scientists think life might exist (May 11, 2005/div>
  • Organisms living far below the surface are single-celled microbes.

Appropriate Ages

Part 1: 25 minutes
Part 2: 25–30 minutes
Part 3: 25–30 minutes


Part 1 — Board Game (for each team)

Parts 2 and 3 — Making Habitable and Uninhabitable Planets

  • Craft materials for constructing 3D models (clay/plasticine/Play Doh, cloth scraps, plastic bags, colored papers (e.g., wrapping paper, newspaper, construction paper), aluminum foil, straight pins for attaching elements to clay, glue guns, etc.)
  • Craft materials for drawing or making a collage (colored crayons/markers/pens/pencils/paint, white paper, glue for paper, colored papers, scissors, tape (single and double sided), etc.)

Correlations to National Science Standards

Physical Science — Content Standard B

Transfer of Energy

  • Energy is a property of many substances and is associated with heat, light, electricity, mechanical motion, sound, nuclei, and the nature of a chemical. Energy is transferred in many ways.
  • Heat moves in predictable ways, flowing from warmer objects to cooler ones, until both reach the same temperature.
  • In most chemical and nuclear reactions, energy is transferred into or out of a system. Heat, light, mechanical motion, or electricity might all be involved in such transfers.
  • The sun is a major source of energy for changes on the earth's surface. The sun loses energy by emitting light. A tiny fraction of that light reaches the earth, transferring energy from the sun to the earth. The sun's energy arrives as light with a range of wavelengths, consisting of visible light, infrared, and ultraviolet radiation.

Life Science — Content Standard C

Regulation and Behavior

  • All organisms must be able to obtain and use resources, grow, reproduce, and maintain stable internal conditions while living in a constantly changing external environment.

Populations and Ecosystems

  • Populations of organisms can be categorized by the function they serve in an ecosystem. Plants and some microorganisms are producers--they make their own food. All animals, including humans, are consumers, which obtain food by eating other organisms. Decomposers, primarily bacteria and fungi, are consumers that use waste materials and dead organisms for food.
  • For ecosystems, the major source of energy is sunlight. Energy entering ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis. That energy then passes from organism to organism in food webs.
  • The number of organisms an ecosystem can support depends on the resources available and abiotic factors, such as quantity of light and water, range of temperatures, and soil composition. Lack of resources and other factors, such as predation and climate, limit the growth of populations in specific niches in the ecosystem.

Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms

  • Extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient to allow its survival. Fossils indicate that many organisms that lived long ago are extinct. Extinction of species is common; most of the species that have lived on the earth no longer exist.

Earth and Space Science — Content Standard D

Structure of the Earth System

  • Water, which covers the majority of the earth's surface, circulates through the crust, oceans, and atmosphere in what is known as the "water cycle." Water evaporates from the earth's surface, rises and cools as it moves to higher elevations, condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects in lakes, oceans, soil, and in rocks underground.
  • Water is a solvent. As it passes through the water cycle it dissolves minerals and gases and carries them to the oceans.
  • The atmosphere is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and trace gases that include water vapor. The atmosphere has different properties at different elevations.

Earth in the Solar System

  • The sun is the major source of energy for phenomena on the earth's surface, such as growth of plants, winds, ocean currents, and the water cycle.

Earth in the Solar System

  • The sun is the major source of energy for phenomena on the earth's surface, such as growth of plants, winds, ocean currents, and the water cycle.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives — Content Standard F

Natural Hazards

  • Internal and external processes of the earth system cause natural hazards, events that change or destroy human and wildlife habitats, damage property, and harm or kill humans. Natural hazards include earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, floods, storms, and even possible impacts of asteroids.

Risks and Benefits

  • Risk analysis considers the type of hazard and estimates the number of people that might be exposed and the number likely to suffer consequences. The results are used to determine the options for reducing or eliminating risks.
  • Students should understand the risks associated with natural hazards (fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and asteroids), with chemical hazards (pollutants in air, water, soil, and food), with biological hazards (pollen, viruses, bacterial, and parasites), social hazards (occupational safety and transportation), and with personal hazards (smoking, dieting, and drinking).

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Last updated
May 11, 2005