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Solar System Experiments

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. They have a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. They also are certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.

Having the right temperature is an important criteria for life on Earth. Today, we're going to experiment to find out how distance from the Sun affects the temperature on different planets.

Introduction

Research Question: How does the distance from the Sun affect surface temperature?
Age: Elementary school and up
Time to Complete: 1 hour
Safety Concerns: Lamps can get hot over time. Never touch a light bulb that has recently been turned on with your bare hands.
Independent Variable: Distance from light source
Dependent Variable: Temperature
Controlled variables:
Type of light source, type of thermometer

The search for life on other planets has been an endless quest since space travel first started. However, so far no life has been found in our solar system or others. In their search, scientists look for planets that might have similar conditions to Earth. They're interested in small planets that are a particular distance away from the Sun with a molten core like Earth.

Gaseous planets like Saturn or Jupiter certainly don't support life, so scientists infer that other gaseous planets won't either. But, planets with a rocky core like Mercury also haven't shown any signs of life. For more infromation on the possibility of life on other planets, you can read this lesson: Is There Life on Other Planets?

Life requires a perfect balance of conditions, which have eluded scientists as they search for signs of life in the universe. Any life that we know of requires water to survive. It's one of the first things scientists look for after finding a comparable planet. Water is essential for all living things, and also provides a buffer to control the temperature on Earth. To learn more about how water supports life, you can check out this lesson: What Are the Properties of Water: - Unique Properties that Support Life on Earth

Another factor is temperature. As you know, when it gets too hot, plants wilt and animals overheat. It's simply not possible to live on a planet that's too hot. But a planet that's too cold can also ruin any chances for life. Living things require a perfect balance of temperature.

Today, we're going to examine how the distance away from a light source, like a star, influences temperature and thus the possibility of life. Finding planets that are the right distance from a star is essential to finding life on other planets.

Materials

  • Thermometer
  • Flood lamp or a large desk lamp without a shade
  • Meter stick
  • Timer
  • Data Table:

Distance from light source Temperature
0m
0.25m
0.5m
0.75m
1.0m

Steps

1. First, place your lamp on a flat surface angled forward.

2. Next, place the meter stick in front of the lamp.

Safety Tip!! Never touch a light bulb that has recently been turned on with your bare hands. Wait for it to cool.

3. Take your thermometer and place it right next to the lamp and turn the lamp on. This will be your measurement for 0m away from the light source. Wait until the thermometer stops changing temperature for at least 10 seconds. Record your value in the data table.

4. Remove your thermometer from the lamp and let it cool to room temperature.

5. Repeat step 3-4 for each of the distances in the data table.

Troubleshooting

If your data isn't as expected, make sure that you wait until the temperature read on the thermometer has completely stabilized. Your results will not be accurate if the temperature is still changing.

Discussion Questions

How did the temperature change with distance?

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