Students choose a card describing one of six possible planetary environments and invent a creature that can thrive in the conditions outlined on the card. Students will have to be creative in order to invent creatures that can live on some of the planets in our solar system, as some cards describe planets where no life is predicted to exist. However, the goal is to introduce students to the factors to consider when thinking about the habitability of planets: Is there food to eat, gas to breathe, a comfortable temperature, a way to move, and gravity? Students will draw their creatures and share the drawings with the group.
This activity was adapted from:
Mars Critters | Johnson Space Center
Activity 1 in the Fingerprints of Life activity guide.
Search for a Habitable Planet | Johnson Space Center
Activity 4 in JSC’s ARES Modeling Orbits in the Solar System guide.
- Understand that living things develop so they can survive in a particular environment
Grade Level: 1-6
- One class period (approx. 30 minutes)
- Home Sweet Home Presentation Slides
- Creature Cards (PDF) (1 set per team)
- My Creature Handout (PDF) (1 per team or child)
- Markers (for drawing)
Before the Lesson
- Print the Creature Cards (PDF) and the My Creature Handout (PDF). Each student or team will need a card, so duplicate them as many times as necessary
- Cut the cards apart.
Part I: Engage
- Think about where you and your family live. Is it an apartment? A house? A trailer? What makes a house or an apartment such a good place to live? (It provides space; protects us from the elements; stores food; keeps the temperature comfortable; there is oxygen that we can breathe.) Write down the students’ answers, if possible.
- How is the planet Earth like a house or apartment? (It provides us with food and water; the atmosphere shields us from ultraviolet light C, which can harm our eyes and skin; the magnetic field protects us from cosmic radiation, which can damage our body’s cells; the atmosphere circulates oxygen for us to breath and acts like a blanket to protect us from the cold of space.)
2. Brainstorm some requirements of life and the related planetary characteristics. Invite each group to share its ideas about the requirements for life. Some groups may list requirements that are not absolutely necessary for survival (such as this requirement for a cat: “someone to take care of it”). Encourage students to discuss which of their requirements are necessary for basic survival and which add to the quality of life of the living thing.
Optional: Consider putting the information or the titles below on a chart for students to see, fill in, or discuss.
- Food to Eat
- "Air" to breathe
- Comfortable Temperature
- Ability to move
Related Planetary Characteristics:
- Planets need to supply chemicals that creatures can use for energy
- A planet's atmosphere can supply creatures with important chemicals in gas form (e.g., air)
- Planets can be hot, moderate (i.e., Earth), or cold
- A planet's surface type (solid, liquid, gas) affects how creatures can move
- The more massive a planet is, along with its size, determines the pull of gravity on a creature
Part II: Facilitate
3. Hand out the Creature Cards (PDF) and the My Creature Handout (PDF). Tell students that you will give each person (or team) a card that describes the kind of food and atmosphere on a planet as well as the planet’s temperature. The card also states how creatures move on their planet. The students’ job is to invent, design, draw, and name a creature that can thrive in the conditions listed on the card. After 10 to 15 minutes, they will gather and meet everybody’s creature.
- Students can work individually or as a team. Teams give students a way to discuss ideas.
- More than one students or group can use the same Creature Cards (PDF).
- Students can be creative when inventing and drawing creatures that can live on their planet.
- For the temperature, “moderate” means a range of temperatures, like on Earth. “Cold” means much, much colder than Earth, and “hot” means much, much hotter than Earth.
Check for Understanding
Gather in a circle. Have students first describe their planet and then talk about their creature’s needs and the features that enable it to live successfully on the planet. (Try to keep this moving, because students will get really involved with their creatures.)
Tell students that the Creature Cards (PDF) relate to planets in the solar system. As students describe their creature, show an image of the planet from the provided Home Sweet Home presentation slides. Use the key below:
Conditions: Can live on cold gas planets
- Match Planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune
Conditions: Can live on hot solid planets
- Match Planets: Venus
Conditions: Can live on a solid, moderate temperature planet
- Match Planets: Earth
Conditions: Can live on cold gas planets that support swimming
- Match Planets: Uranus and Neptune
Conditions: Can live on a cold, solid planet
- Match Planets: Mars
Note: No creatures can live on Mercury (it’s too hot and there’s no atmosphere).
Emphasize that life is adaptable. Tell students that Creatures C and F are most like life as we know it. However, scientistsare constantly amazed by the discovery of microbes living in places that they never imagined could support life.
The message is that if a liquid, food, and an energy source are available, there is a good chance that life will find a way to develop—life has an amazing ability to exploit resources. And as much as we think we understand life and where it can exist, discoveries of new forms of life thriving in seemingly uninhabitable conditions constantly surprise us and force us to rethink our ideas of life and habitability.
Optional message for older students: Organisms need protection from extreme temperatures and radiation levels and access to reliable supplies of water, nutrients, and energy. On most planets and moons, they would have to live underground to find all these conditions, meaning they would be microbial.
Make a model (Optional)
(This will add 20 to 30 minutes to the activity.)
Invite students to build a 3-D model of their creature out of clay or other modeling materials. Put together a gallery display of creatures for students to share.