Determining the Atmospheric Composition of Exoplanets
This lecture tutorial by the NASA Space Science Education Consortium (SSEC) introduces students to the exciting field of exoplanet atmospheres. More than 4,000 planets have been discovered orbiting distant stars since Kepler began its search for exoplanets. But it's not enough to find alien planets. We want to know if they might harbor life. In this tutorial, students will interpret graphs and examine spectral patterns to explore how astronomers identify elements in an exoplanet's atmosphere. The lesson is especially timely with the launch in April, 2018, of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which is using transit spectroscopy to generate data on exoplanets in our own "solar neighborhood".

In addition to exploring spectral data, students will read an open-access article by MIT planetary scientist Sara Seager, The Future of Spectroscopic Life Detection on Exoplanets. They will make and defend an argument about what planetary conditions are necessary to sustain life forms similar to those found on Earth.

Note: High school teachers may wish to download the supplementary "Teacher Notes" document developed to accompany this lecture tutorial. It could be used as content support or as a flipped lesson.
The Future of Spectroscopic Life Detection on Exoplanets
This is a direct link to the article referenced in the Lecture Tutorial, "The Future of Spectroscopic Life Detection on Exoplanets", by Sara Seager, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in 2014.