2009 Annual Science Report

Arizona State University Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

EPO Activity: EPO: K-12 Curriculum Development Projects

Project Progress

NAI-ASU scientist Dr. Patrick Young has designed a new activity for students grades 7-12 called Finding a Home Away From Home: Searching For Habitable Planet (Attachment 1). In this inquiry-based, critical thinking activity, students search for stellar systems with the potential for harboring habitable planets a way similar to how scientists would approach the problem. Students categorize stars based on their astrobiology-relevant properties and choose a set of targets stars for future habitable planet searches.

This activity will provide students with an opportunity to face the same kinds of questions that astrobiologists do, and attempt to answer them with a state-of-the-art data set. In the next decade multiple missions will be launched that have the potential to detect earth-sized planets and perhaps make measurements of the composition of their atmospheres. With well over 100 billion stars in our galaxy, searching each one for habitable planets is obviously impossible. Students will first develop a set of criteria for what makes a star system likely to host habitable planets. They will then apply their criteria to the Habitable Stars Catalog (Habcat) developed by Dr. Margaret Turnbull to select a list of search targets from the tens of thousands of stars in the Sunʼs neighborhood of the Galaxy.

Students will go through a series of steps in this process:

  • Learn key biological requirements for sustaining life
  • Learn the properties of stars and stellar evolution that affect the habitability of

planets
  • Create a list of criteria for searches that can be applied to measurable

properties of stars
  • Query the database for targets based on these criteria. This step will involve

extensive creation and interpretation of graphs
  • Evaluate the final set of search targets, refine their procedure, and think about

additional data that would help in the investigation.