Solar System Exploration Public Engagement Institute

Presented by the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute: the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Lunar and Planetary Institute

The February 2020 event was conducted at the Lunar and Planetary Institute and Space Center Houston, and incorporated presentations by planetary scientists and a variety of hands-on activities and resources for engaging public audiences.

For more information, contact
Christine Shupla
Lunar and Planetary Institute
281-486-2135, [email protected]


Engagement Activities

Mars Match
Match the Mars cards with the Earth analogues, either as an opening engagement (each person receives a card and tries to find their match), as an individual or group activity, or play concentration.

Cosmic Survey
Sort objects in the universe by size, distance, and age.

Red Planet (revision of Red Ball Improv activity)
Toss invisible planets as an icebreaker.

Solar System models: scale, orbit

Augmented Reality “Lunar and Planetary” App
This free app works with free downloadable posters to transport audiences to the Moon, Mars, Ceres, Saturn, Europa, and Pluto.

Space Rocks board game
Play a board game to learn about meteors, meteoroids, and meteorites; teams compete to get their space rocks to Antarctica, where they have the chance to be found and studied by scientists!

Edible Rocks
Analyze and discuss candy bars with the same terminology used by geologists to study meteorites.

Paper Strip Scale Solar System Model
This simple activity from the McDonald Observatory uses a strip of paper to model the scale of the solar system. Make a prediction of the scale on one side, then use folds to create and compare a more accurate model on the other side.

Modeling the Night Sky (kinesthetic activity)
Explore the Earth and Sun's positions in relation to the constellations of the ecliptic with a small model. Then they extend to explore the motions of the Earth and inner planets in a larger classroom-size model.

How Far is the Moon
This demonstration briefly models the size and scale of the Earth-Moon system.

Comparing objects in the solar system

Sorting the Solar System
Explore some of the different objects in the Solar System and create categories for them, then discuss what categories scientists currently assign to each object.

Heavyweight Planet Jupiter
Weigh yourself on scales modified to represent their weights on other worlds to explore the concept of gravity and its relationship to weight


Loony Lunar Phases
Recreate lunar phases using cookies and place onto a month-long calendar.

Moon Ooze
Model how the Moon's volcanic period reshaped its features using Rice Krispie treats and chocolate syrup.

Lunar Phases: A Dance with the Sun
This activity creates a model with the real Moon and Sun in the sky to help participants discover the real reason for the lunar phases.

Golf-ball Phases and Embroidery Hoop Eclipses
Explore the dynamics of lunar phases to develop an understanding of the relative positions of our Moon, Earth, and Sun that cause the phases of the Moon as viewed from Earth. Using a golf ball glowing under the ultraviolet light of a “blacklight” makes it easier to see the actual phase of the Moon.

Recipe for a Moon
— for lunar structure, density


Impact Craters
Determine the factors affecting the appearance of impact craters and ejecta by dropping impactors into a crater box.

Water Balloon Impacts
Measure the diameter of their water balloons, model an impact, measure the diameter of the “crater” area, and determine the ratio of impactor to crater.

How We Explore:

Rover Races
Work in teams to model how we communicate with a rover on Mars.

A Trip to Mars
Play a game using posters and dice that steps through a human mission to Mars, to learn about Mars exploration, the variety of people supporting missions, and factors that can affect a mission outcome.

Gateway to the Moon
Play a game using posters and dice that steps through a human mission to the Moon via Gateway, to learn about lunar exploration, the variety of people supporting missions, and factors that can affect a mission outcome. (PDF)

PLANETS Water in Extreme Environments
Water in Extreme Environments engages youth in collaborative teams to engineer water filters with basic materials, and by playing a game to learn about where water can be found in our solar system.

PLANETS Out-of-School Time for Grades 3-5
Engineering Gloves to Protect from Space Hazards

Strange New Planet
Find how human curiosity in planetary exploration results in science questions, engineering solutions, and teamwork. This activity demonstrates how planetary features are discovered by the use of remote-sensing techniques. Experience the different phases in planetary exploration, including telescope observations, fly by missions, orbiters, landers, rovers…and their own ideas about human exploration.

Touchdown activity
Design and build a shock-absorbing system that will protect two “astronauts” when they land. Follow the engineering design process to: (1) design and build a shock-absorbing system out of paper, straws, and mini-marshmallows; (2) attach their shock absorber to a cardboard platform; and (3) improve their design based on testing results.


  Resources Suggested by Participants

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