Aliens and extraterrestrial life are hot topics in the media that can be greatly misunderstood. We often think of the green little men of Mars but is that what we’d really find there? In this activity, the goal is to compare other environments on planets and moons in our Solar System and understand how these environments affect life. This also allows us to understand how life on our own planet has evolved in so many diverse ways. Students will be able to compare and contrast worlds within our Solar System to our own and also to creatively think about how these different environments would affect life! This also works to introduce the search for life through scientific research and study through astronomy and astrobiology.
The Earth is the only planet that we know of that supports life and it is life that comes in many different forms. It is situated in a zone known as the Habitable Zone around the Sun which allows for the presence of liquid water, an important factor to the creation and sustainability of life as we know it. Our gravity contains our atmosphere which allows us to breathe and does not expose us to the harsh vacuum and temperatures of space. It also shields us against the harshest radiation although it may not be perfect since we still have to protect ourselves against the UV radiation that causes sunburn. Compared to other planets in our solar system, it is perfect for life.
Yet, on Earth, there are extreme conditions where life still flourishes. In the deepest parts of our oceans where no light is present, fish evolve to have their own light sources like the Anglerfish, or they evolve to have no eyes at all like the Mexican tetra fish which uses the difference in water pressure to navigate. There are many examples of how life has evolved to extreme conditions on our own planet, so why don’t we consider the harsh conditions of others as potential areas for life?
The planets within our Solar System are vastly different to our own when it comes to things like air and atmosphere, light and radiation, temperature, water and gravity – but we must consider how these things have affected life not only here but possibly on other worlds. This will give students a better understanding of the different environments of our Solar System and also how life has presented itself in different ways on our own planet due to evolution. It also introduces students to research in these fields like astronomy and astrobiology and how they are also trying to answer the questions around extraterrestrial life.
A few example aliens enjoying a party in the Solar System!