NASA Planetary Sciences

NASA Planetary Sciences


In these videos and interactives from NASA, catalogued and adapted by WGBH, explore the exciting discoveries from NASA missions about the planets, moons, and other objects in our solar system. You'll also find three professional development videos from WNET showing planetary science in action in a high school classroom.

Check out our new interactive lessons for middle and high school students and for teacher professional development!

  • Swift and Hubble Probe an Asteroid Crash

    Discover how astronomers determined the unexpected brightening of an asteroid named Scheila was likely the result of an impact with a much smaller asteroid. This video from NASA looks at how the Swift satellite and the Hubble Space Telescope helped astronomers investigate what they thought was an unusual comet but was actually the aftermath of a collision between asteroids. Astronomers ruled out the possibility of a comet, using data about the shape, evolution, and content of the dust plumes to help them reconstruct what happened.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Evolution of the Moon

    Learn about the evolution of Earth's moon, from its initial formation to its current state, in this video from NASA. Real satellite imagery, as well as simulations, explore how the Moon has changed over time. The video looks at how the Moon likely formed about 4.5 billion years ago, how impacts from large objects formed maria, and how additional impacts from smaller objects continue to cause cratering.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • What Hubble Taught Us About the Planets

    Learn about the Hubble Space Telescope's contributions to our scientific understanding of the solar system in this video from NASA. Hubble has studied all of the planets in the solar system except Mercury. Some of Hubble's notable accomplishments include observations of the climate of Venus, dust storms on Mars, aurorae and the impact of a comet on Jupiter, the rings of Saturn and Uranus, Neptune's immense storms, and dwarf planets such as Pluto, Ceres, and Eris.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Possible Ice Volcano on Titan

    Learn how features derived from Cassini radar data indicate a possible ice volcano on Saturn's moon Titan in this video from NASA. Learn about Sotra Facula, a possible cryovolcano (ice volcano) on Saturn's moon Titan. Volcanologist Rosaly Lopes explains how topographic maps derived from Cassini radar data show features (such as sand dunes, mountains, a deep crater, and lobate flow-like areas) that indicate Sotra Facula is two cryovolcanoes separated by a low area. The "magma" in cryovolcanoes is a watery mixture instead of molten rock. If there are water and heat to cause cryovolcanism, there is also the possibility of life.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Why Study Comets?

    Learn what comets are and how they inform us about the early solar system, in this video adapted from NASA. Comets, which are made of frozen gases, ice, dust, and rock, are typically in a deep freeze in the outer solar system. But when a comet nears the Sun, it loses streams of gases and forms a coma (a thin, temporary atmosphere at its head) and a tail. Dr. Paul Chodas, a research scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains that comets—unlike planets, which have undergone significant processing—contain original materials from when the solar system formed and can inform us about the conditions of the early solar system.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 3-8,13+
  • Jupiter: The Largest Planet

    Explore our solar system's largest planet, Jupiter, including its role in the evolution of the solar system in this video from NASA. Dramatic visualizations and satellite images show Jupiter's size compared with Earth, its fast rotation, and its dynamic cloud systems (including the famous Great Red Spot). In 1994, Jupiter's gravity pulled apart comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and cometary fragments collided with the planet, illustrating the role that Jupiter may play in helping to protect Earth from dangerous impacts. The video also looks at Jupiter's numerous moons and explores the diverse characteristics of its four largest: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Saturn’s Stunning Double Show

    Look at the northern and southern aurorae of Saturn and explains how they are produced in this video from NASA. In 2009, there was a rare opportunity to observe both of Saturn's poles simultaneously. The Hubble Space Telescope gathered data over several days, and researchers used the images they gathered to create a movie of the northern and southern lights. Visualizations show how the interaction between the solar wind, atmosphere, and planetary magnetic fields produce aurorae. The differences between the northern and southern aurorae of Saturn indicate that its magnetic field is uneven.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Soaring Over Mars

    Tour three Martian landscapes and find out how erosion and water affected the surface of Mars, in this video adapted from NASA. Flyover images created from HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment), an instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, show the structure and composition of the Martian landscape. In Candor Chasma, part of a canyon system, large buttes were likely formed by the process of erosion. Channels running down from terraces may be evidence of rainfall at Mojave crater. False-color images show the presence of minerals in an area called Nili Fossae. Carbonates (shown in green) indicate an environment that could once have been conducive to life.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 6-13+
  • Europa Jupiter System Mission

    This video from NASA introduces a proposed mission to study potential habitable worlds around gas giants such as Jupiter. The Europa Jupiter System Mission, a proposed joint venture between NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency), would send two spacecraft to study Jupiter and its four largest moons: Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, and Io. Simulations show the locations of the moons' subsurface oceans and how spacecraft could collect valuable information about habitable environments in our solar system.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Missions to Comets: Stardust and Deep Impact | NASA Planetary Sciences

    Explore the exciting discoveries from two NASA missions to study comets, Stardust and Deep Impact, which collected valuable data about the nature of comets. The Stardust spacecraft was designed to capture dust particles from comet Wild 2 and deliver them to Earth for analysis. The Deep Impact mission propelled a small spacecraft into comet Tempel 1 while multiple space telescopes observed the event; the data revealed valuable information about the composition and origin of comets. The videos are available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions and is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection

    Grades: 6-12
  • Exploration of Comets | NASA Planetary Sciences

    Learn about comets in this interactive activity from NASA. An overview video describes the composition of comets and explains how they may have transported materials (including water) to early Earth and played a role in the development of life. Animations detail the anatomy and life cycle of a comet. Images and text provide information about the specific characteristics of several comets (comet 19P/Borrelly, comet Wild 2, comet Tempel 1, comet 67P, and comet Hartley 2) and the missions to explore them. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Is the Moon Geologically Active? | NASA Planetary Sciences

    Learn how surface features on the Moon indicate it is geologically active in this interactive activity adapted from NASA. In 2010, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of lobate scarps, geological features that form when two surfaces at a thrust fault are pushed together; these features indicate that the Moon is shrinking. In 2012, new observations showed surface features, called graben, which form where the crust has pulled apart; these features are evidence that the Moon is expanding in some places. These discoveries suggest that the Moon is still geologically active and challenge ideas about how the Moon formed and evolved. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 5-13+
  • Study Titan's Topography | NASA Planetary Sciences

    Learn about the topography of Titan, one of Saturn's moons, in this interactive activity adapted from NASA. Videos and visualizations show how the geologic processes of Earth and Titan may be similar. Ontario Lacus, a lake made of liquid methane and ethane, has familiar shoreline features such as alluvial fans, flooded valleys, and deltas. Sikun Labyrinthus, is an area of karst topography where liquid has dissolved the rocks and produced a characteristic landscape of hills and valleys. Racetrack Playa, a dry lake bed in Death Valley, exhibits features that are comparable to those seen on Titan. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 5-13+
  • Sea Level Viewer | NASA Planetary Sciences

    Learn how climate scientists use space-based observations of sea level in this interactive activity from NASA. Observations of sea level can be used to predict weather events, improve tsunami computer models and early warning systems, and study climate change. An interactive visualization tool shows a global map of sea levels, and videos explain more about specific events, including a large El Nino (November 1997), Hurricane Katrina (August 2005), the Indian Ocean tsunami (December 2004), and a La Nina (February 1999). In addition, there are descriptions of three missions: TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason 1, and Jason 2. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 5-13+
  • Tour the Solar System | NASA Planetary Sciences

    Learn about the objects of the solar system in this interactive activity adapted from NASA. Videos and animations introduce basic facts about the Sun and the eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Descriptions provide information about each object, such as its size, temperature, composition, surface features, distance, rotation, and orbit. The tour also describes the asteroid belt (including its two largest objects, Ceres and Vesta), the Kuiper belt (including dwarf planets Pluto, Eris, Haumea, and Makemake), comet Halley, the Oort cloud, and the interplanetary medium. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 5-12
  • A Visit to Asteroid Vesta | NASA Planetary Sciences

    Learn about Vesta, one of the largest asteroids in the solar system, in this interactive activity adapted from NASA. The Hubble Space Telescope provided the first images of Vesta and the Dawn mission was designed to collect more detailed data. Vesta's surface features (such as craters, cliffs, grooves, lineaments, bulges, and troughs) and other features (such as light and dark spots, uneven surface compositions, and gravity variations) help scientists learn about its history and evolution. DAWN's findings show that Vesta is a protoplanet with a differentiated interior. This resource is part of the NASA Planetary Sciences Collection.

    Grades: 5-13+

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Funder: Funding for this project is provided by NASA.