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How do the atmosphere, solar energy and water found on Earth compare with what we find on other planets? In this activity you will locate and interpret evidence comparing Earth's characteristics with those of other planets and moons in the solar system. As you complete this activity, you will demonstrate your ability to use appropriate research and data collection skills. Good luck!

Identify the characteristics of Earth's environment and the requirements which make life possible. Compare the characteristics to those of other planets and moons in the solar system. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can humans travel to this planet or moon?
  • Is the planet or moon capable of supporting life?
    • What characteristics of Earth are similar to the planet or moon?
    • What characteristics of life are missing from this location?
  • How can humans learn more about planets and moons?
    • What technologies have scientists developed to study these areas of the universe?
    • What technologies would need to be invented to assist in future discoveries?

Get to Know The Planets

  • School textbook
  • Library
  • Internet

Internet Sources:



  1. Copy the following chart onto a full sheet of paper, using the whole page. The chart will be used to compare and contrast characteristics of the different planets in our solar system. Example:



















    • Each box should include:
      • Average or mean distance from the sun
      • Period of revolution
      • Equatorial diameter (Earth = 1)
      • Atmosphere (main components)
      • Moons or natural satellites, if any
      • Number of rings, if any
      • Rotation period
      • Mass (Earth = 1)
      • Mean density (gram/cm3)
      • “Surface” temperature (°C or °F) average
  2. Use the Internet or Library to complete chart.
  3. Analyze trends and patterns of the planets.


  1. If the distance is shown as an average, what does this tell you about a planet’s distance from the Sun?
  2. Which moons have an atmosphere?
    • Which planets have an atmosphere that is similar to Earth's?
  3. On which planets has water been discovered?
  4. What is needed to determine the presence or absence of water on each of the planets and moons?
  5. What is the relationship between the solar energy a planet receives and its distance from the sun?
  6. What does the fact that the distance is shown as an average tell you about a planet’s distance form the Sun?
  7. What other objects or machines  can you think of that have a period of rotation and/or a period of revolution?
  8. Is there a pattern in the rotation periods of the planets? Is there one planet whose rotation period is different from the rotation periods of other planets in its size range?
  9. The rings of Saturn are believed to have icy particles, reflecting light brightly and colorfully. The other ringed planets have darker and less numerous rings, probably made up of dustier and rockier materials. Is there something resembling a ring system orbiting the Sun?
  10. There is a jump in the pattern for mean distance from Mars and Jupiter to the Sun. Is there another jump in the data?

Procedure (cont.):

  1. Gather in a group of nine.
  2. Each student pick one of the nine planets.
  3. Write a six paragraph, 12 pt. font, on your planet. Be ready to report to your group.
  4. Your report should include:
    • The planet's name: What does the name mean? (Many planets were named after mythological gods.)
    • Position in the solar system: Where is your planet located, counting out from the sun?  How far from the sun does it orbit? Is its orbit unusual?
    • Rotation on its axis: How long does it take to rotate on its own axis? (This is one day on your planet.)
    • Size: How big is your planet? How does its size (biggest? smallest?) rate with the other planets?  What is your planet's mass?
    • Gravity: What is the force of gravity at the surface? For example, what would a 100-pound person weigh on that planet?  (Find the answer in the exploratorium.)
    • Orbit: How long does it take to orbit the sun? (This is one year on your planet.)
    • Atmosphere: What is the composition of the atmosphere? Is it a thick or a thin atmosphere?
    • Temperature: What is the temperature range? How does this compare to the temperature on Earth?
    • Composition and appearance: What type of planet is it? (rocky? a gas giant?) What is its internal composition? What does your planet look like?
    • Moons: Are there moons orbiting your planet?  If so, what is their description and when were they discovered?
    • Rings: Are there rings orbiting your planet?  If so, what is their description and when were they discovered?
    • How human beings would fare: Would a person choke in the atmosphere, be squashed by the extreme gravity, float with ease, freeze, burn up, or something else?
    • Something special: Is there anything special about your planet? (This can often be the best part of the report, taking you off on interesting topics. For example, are there 100-year-long storms? Are there giant volcanoes? Does your planet have a  tilted axis that gives it extreme seasons? Have spacecraft visited your planet? If so, what have they discovered? Is your planet in an orbital resonance with another body?)
    • Discovery: When was your planet discovered and by whom? (The planets not visible to the naked eye, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, were discovered after the invention of the telescope).

Citing Your References: When you write your bibliography, list all of your references

  • Web Site: Author(s) if appropriate. Title of Site or web page. URL of site, date of publication (the earliest copyright year listed).
  • Book: Author(s). Title of book. Edition. Location of publisher: Name of Publisher, year of publication.
  • Encyclopedia: Title of encyclopedia, volume of encyclopedia used. Location of publisher: Name of Publisher, year of publication, pages where the article is located.
  • Magazine or Journal: Author(s). "Title of article." Name of magazine, Volume.issue (date): pages where the article is located.
  • Author(s) are listed last name first, first name or initials (as cited in the publication).
  1. Present your report orally to your peers.
    • You might use these rubrics for your research and this presentation.


  1. Write a diamante about your planet and another planet you learned about. (Example: gas versus rocky.) The diamante (dee-ah-mahn-tay) is a seven line contrast poem that is set up to appear in a diamond shape on the paper.

Line numbers:

  1. One word (a noun, the subject)
  2. Two words (adjectives describing 1)
  3. Three words (“ing” or “ed” words that relate to 1) verbs or verbals
  4. Four words (first two nouns relate to 1, second two nouns to 7)
    • Contrast between planets occurs in this line.
  5. Three words (“ing” or “ed” words that relate to 7) verbs verbals
  6. Two words (adjectives describing 7)
  7. One word (a noun, opposite of 1)

The following is an example of a Diamante about school.


Long, hard

Studying, working, learning,

Lessons, homework, freedom, leisure,

Relaxing, playing, resting,

Short, delightful


  1. Download this NASA publication for an activity on what characteristics a planet needs to have life.
Review science lab safety rules here.

Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.

Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE Earth Systems Science core.


Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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