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This booklet, originally produced by NAI in 2000 and updated in 2007, contains five inquiry- and standards-based classroom activities for grades 5-8 and three math extensions spanning topics from Defining Life, to Determining the Chances of Extraterrestrial Life.
Many students express disinterest in discovering anything less than a bona fide, Hollywood-style extraterrestrial. However, no life beyond Earth has ever been found, which implies that life may be a rare accident that happened on Earth due to an extraordinary convergence of circumstances and that it is unlikely to happen elsewhere. In this context, discovering microbial life would help us understand more about how life arises and what conditions it can tolerate. Furthermore, it would help answer the question of whether life is a common process in the universe. In short, discovering microbial life beyond Earth would be a profound discovery.
Have the class define the term, extraterrestrial. Try to get them to broaden the meaning to include anything from microbes to plants to intelligent creatures to any living thing...
To have students identify the factors related to the existence of extraterrestrial life, ask them what information they would need to determine the probability of extraterrestrial life...
Have students report their estimates and discuss the range and their implications. The Drake Equation can provide radically different answers from 1 (we will never hear from intelligent extraterrestrials) to billions (we will almost undoubtedly hear from them)...
8. If tomorrow’s newspaper headline read, “Message Received from Outer Space,” what would it mean to you?