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This page provides an inquiry-based teaching module for the middle grades that explores atmospheric conditions on Earth, Venus, and Mars. Students analyze spectral data from real space missions to identify some of the gases and liquids present on Earth and its two closest neighbors - Venus and Mars. Then they will mathematically compare the amounts of carbon dioxide present in each planet's atmosphere. The activity can be presented as a Flash interactive, a paper-and-pencil task, or a combination of both.  It includes full lesson plan, assessment with answer key, and content support.

Please note that this resource requires Flash.
Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Comparing CO2 levels on Venus and Earth will help learners easily understand the role of greenhouse gases in warming a planet. But Mars has more than 20 times the CO2 in its atmosphere as Earth.  Why is it so much colder?  This lesson will prompt deep thought about factors that contribute to atmospheric conditions. And students will be using computational skills at the same time.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Fundamentals
= Spectra
- Solar System
= Earth
= Mars
= Venus
- Space Exploration
= Robotic Exploration
Electricity & Magnetism
- Electromagnetic Radiation
= Electromagnetic Spectrum
- Geometrical Optics
= Optical Instruments
- Middle School
- Elementary School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Interactive Simulation
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Problem/Problem Set
- Assessment Material
= Test
- Reference Material
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
= Movie/Animation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Assessment
- New teachers
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© 2004 Regents of the University of Colorado
Mars atmosphere, Mars rover, Venue atmosphere, absorption lines, atmosphere, carbon dioxide, emission lines, greenhouse gas, mars, planets, solar system, space exploration, spectral analysis, spectral lines, spectroscope, wavelength
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created November 8, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 19, 2020 by Lyle Barbato

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3A. Technology and Science
  • 3-5: 3A/E2. Technology enables scientists and others to observe things that are too small or too far away to be seen otherwise and to study the motion of objects that are moving very rapidly or are hardly moving at all.
  • 6-8: 3A/M2. Technology is essential to science for such purposes as access to outer space and other remote locations, sample collection and treatment, measurement, data collection and storage, computation, and communication of information.
  • 9-12: 3A/H3b. One way science affects society is by stimulating and satisfying people's curiosity and enlarging or challenging their views of what the world is like.

4. The Physical Setting

4A. The Universe
  • 3-5: 4A/E4. The earth is one of several planets that orbit the sun, and the moon orbits around the earth.
  • 6-8: 4A/M3. Nine planets of very different size, composition, and surface features move around the sun in nearly circular orbits. Some planets have a variety of moons and even flat rings of rock and ice particles orbiting around them. Some of these planets and moons show evidence of geologic activity. The earth is orbited by one moon, many artificial satellites, and debris.
  • 9-12: 4A/H3. Increasingly sophisticated technology is used to learn about the universe. Visual, radio, and X-ray telescopes collect information from across the entire spectrum of electromagnetic waves; computers handle data and complicated computations to interpret them; space probes send back data and materials from remote parts of the solar system; and accelerators give subatomic particles energies that simulate conditions in the stars and in the early history of the universe before stars formed.
  • 9-12: 4A/H5. As the earth and other planets formed, the heavier elements fell to their centers. On planets close to the sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), the lightest elements were mostly blown or boiled away by radiation from the newly formed sun; on the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) the lighter elements still surround them as deep atmospheres of gas or as frozen solid layers.

11. Common Themes

11D. Scale
  • 6-8: 11D/M3. Natural phenomena often involve sizes, durations, and speeds that are extremely small or extremely large. These phenomena may be difficult to appreciate because they involve magnitudes far outside human experience.

12. Habits of Mind

12B. Computation and Estimation
  • 6-8: 12B/M1a. Find what part one number is of another and express it as a fraction or a percentage.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

Standards for Mathematical Practice (K-12)

MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

Ratios and Proportional Relationships (6-7)

Understand ratio concepts and use ratio reasoning to solve problems. (6)
  • 6.RP.1 Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities.
  • 6.RP.3.c Find a percent of a quantity as a rate per 100 (e.g., 30% of a quantity means 30/100 times the quantity); solve problems involving finding the whole, given a part and the percent.
  • 6.RP.3.d Use ratio reasoning to convert measurement units; manipulate and transform units appropriately when multiplying or dividing quantities.
Analyze proportional relationships and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems. (7)
  • 7.RP.2.b Identify the constant of proportionality (unit rate) in tables, graphs, equations, diagrams, and verbal descriptions of proportional relationships.
  • 7.RP.2.c Represent proportional relationships by equations.

Expressions and Equations (6-8)

Reason about and solve one-variable equations and inequalities. (6)
  • 6.EE.6 Use variables to represent numbers and write expressions when solving a real-world or mathematical problem; understand that a variable can represent an unknown number, or, depending on the purpose at hand, any number in a specified set.
  • 6.EE.7 Solve real-world and mathematical problems by writing and solving equations of the form x + p = q and px = q for cases in which p, q and x are all nonnegative rational numbers.
Solve real-life and mathematical problems using numerical and algebraic expressions and equations. (7)
  • 7.EE.3 Solve multi-step real-life and mathematical problems posed with positive and negative rational numbers in any form (whole numbers, fractions, and decimals), using tools strategically. Apply properties of operations to calculate with numbers in any form; convert between forms as appropriate; and assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies.

Statistics and Probability (6-8)

Summarize and describe distributions. (6)
  • 6.SP.5.b Describing the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Astronomy
Unit Title: Astronomy Activities

Great inquiry-based lesson & Flash interactive explores atmospheric conditions on Venus, Earth, & Mars -- using data from real space missions. Students analyze spectral lines to see what gases & liquids are present in each planet. Then they mathematically compare the amounts of CO2.  Comparing CO2 levels for Venus & Earth will help learners see the role of greenhouse gases in warming a planet. But be prepared for a surprise -- Mars has 20 times the atmospheric CO2 as Earth. Why is it SO much colder?

Link to Unit:
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AIP Format
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, (2004), WWW Document, (https://lasp.colorado.edu/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Goldilocks.pdf).
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, NASA: Goldilocks and the Three Planets (2004), <https://lasp.colorado.edu/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Goldilocks.pdf>.
APA Format
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. (2004). NASA: Goldilocks and the Three Planets. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from https://lasp.colorado.edu/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Goldilocks.pdf
Chicago Format
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. NASA: Goldilocks and the Three Planets. 2004. https://lasp.colorado.edu/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Goldilocks.pdf (accessed 17 July 2024).
MLA Format
Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. NASA: Goldilocks and the Three Planets. 2004. NASA. 17 July 2024 <https://lasp.colorado.edu/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Goldilocks.pdf>.
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@misc{ Author = "Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics", Title = {NASA: Goldilocks and the Three Planets}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {17 July 2024}, Year = {2004} }
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%Q Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics %T NASA: Goldilocks and the Three Planets %D 2004 %U https://lasp.colorado.edu/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Goldilocks.pdf %O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %A Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, %D 2004 %T NASA: Goldilocks and the Three Planets %V 2024 %N 17 July 2024 %9 text/html %U https://lasp.colorado.edu/home/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Goldilocks.pdf

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