Finding Life Beyond Earth

Expand/Collapse Finding Life Beyond Earth

Powerful telescopes and unmanned space missions have revealed a wide range of dynamic environments—atmospheres thick with organic molecules, active volcanoes, and vast saltwater oceans. This ongoing revolution is forcing scientists to expand their ideas about what kinds of worlds could support life. In NOVA's Finding Life Beyond Earth, top astrobiologists explain how these places are changing how we think about the potential for life in our solar system.

The resources below explore questions at the heart of the search for extraterrestrial life, such as "What is life?" and "Where do we find habitable conditions?" in order to encourage a better understanding of the existence of life in our solar system.

For additional classroom resources, download the activity collection of seven hands-on activities that explore questions at the heart of the search for extraterrestrial life. You can also download the solar system poster to use as a visual aid in your classroom.

  • How the Inner Solar System Formed

    In this video segment adapted from NOVA, explore the theory that small bits of gas and dust combined to form protoplanets billions of years ago, which in turn collided to create the four rocky planets of the inner solar system.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Life's Basic Ingredients

    This video from NOVA introduces the basic ingredients of life.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Comets Bombard the Early Earth

    Visualize how comets carrying chemicals necessary for life could have made their way to Earth billions of years ago in this video from NOVA.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Life's Extreme Environments

    This video from NOVA explores microbes thriving in extreme environments.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Microbial Life in Antarctica

    This video from NOVA shows life thriving in Mars-like conditions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Thriving on the Arctic Seafloor

    This video from NOVA shows life thriving deep in the Arctic ocean.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Life on Enceladus?

    In this video from NOVA, scientists are startled to discover evidence for the three key ingredients for life on Saturn's moon Enceladus.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Life on Europa?

    This video from NOVA suggests there is an ocean beneath the surface of Europa.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Life on Mars?

    This video excerpt from NOVA describes the discovery of water ice on Mars.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Life on Titan?

    This video from NOVA describes the discovery of methane lakes on Titan.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Life Beyond the Solar System

    This video from NOVA describes the search for disks of dust particles forming around new stars.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Planet-Hunting

    Learn about NASA’s Kepler mission and how scientists search for planets orbiting stars outside our solar system in this video from NOVA.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Meet the Planets

    In this lesson, students will identify the planets in the solar system, observe and describe their characteristics and features, and build a scale model out of everyday materials.
    Grades: 1-6
  • What Is Life?

    In this lesson, students observe a number of objects, make a list of life’s characteristics, and develop a working definition of being alive.
    Grades: 1-6
  • Basic Ingredients for Life

    In this lesson, students make impact craters to gain insight into how comets and asteroids deliver water and chemicals to the Earth and other places in the solar system.
    Grades: 1-6
  • Extreme Living

    Using cards that show extremophiles and some of Earth’s extreme environments, students match a microbe to an extreme environment in which it could live.
    Grades: 1-6
  • Home Sweet Home

    In this lesson, students choose a card describing one of six possible planetary environments and design a form of life that can thrive in the conditions outlined on the card.
    Grades: 1-6
  • Where to Look for Life

    Students examine environment cards that describe planets and moons in terms of their temperature and atmosphere and the availability of water, energy, and nutrients. They then select the best candidates to search for life.
    Grades: 1-6
  • How to Search for Life

    In this lesson, students participate in a range of demonstrations that illustrate different techniques for searching for life.
    Grades: 1-6