The Universe Around Us was developed as an up-to-date resource on astrobiology for students in grades 6-9. The information on these pages, developed and reviewed by scientists and teachers, is meant to serve as an informal reference source on astronomy, planetary science, and the limits of life. The Universe Around Us has a counterpart developed by the SETI Institute's Center for Education and Public Outreach. The Life in the Universe Curriculum http://www.seti.org/epo/litu, with modules for grades 3-9, is now available online, free of charge, in PDF format. Both the Life in the Universe curriculum, and The Universe Around Us, are aligned with California and federal educational standards, as follow.

Teacher Information and Link to Life in the Universe Curriculum

Funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA, the SETI Institute has developed an engaging curriculum with a team of educators and scientists. The Life in the Universe Curriculum uses integrated simulations to immerse students in the study of conditions that support life on Earth so that they can track the possible existence of life elsewhere in the Universe. These simulations will expose students to the multi-discipline reality of science by focusing on the emerging field of Astrobiology which includes understandings from astronomy, life sciences, Earth sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering, anthropology and sociology. The high interest curriculum inspires and engages students by challenging them to apply biological concepts and their knowledge of Earth’s geological processes to explore the questions: Where did life come from? What is its future? Are we alone? Included in the materials are assessments, planning guides, timelines, and material lists. Lessons are designed from a constructivist approach stimulating critical thinking and promoting the use of cooperative learning groups. Teachers may use these WebPages in conjunction with the Life in the Universe Curriculum or may choose to use either separately. All educational materials are free for educators and can be found at the SETI website by clicking on the link above.

Notes on Standards:

WebPages Link to CA Standards: These WebPages primarily support the eighth grade and high school CA Science Content Standards on the Solar System and Universe. Although the focus is on the 8th Grade Standards listed below, however 6th and 7th grade teachers can structure assignments to target the standards for Investigation and Experimentation for their grade level. Also given the fact that students are not tested in California until eighth grade, learning about the Solar System in 6th and 7th grade will help students develop a strong background in this area and will promote higher scores on the eighth grade exam.

Grade 8: Earth in the Solar System (Earth Science)

The structure and composition of the universe can be learned from the study of stars and galaxies, and their evolution. As a basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • Galaxies are clusters of billions of stars, and may have different shapes.
  • The sun is one of many stars in our own Milky Way galaxy. Stars may differ in size, temperature, and color.
  • How to use astronomical units and light years as measures of distance between the sun, stars, and Earth.
  • Stars are the source of light for all bright objects in outer space. The moon and planets shine by reflected sunlight, not by their own light.
  • The appearance, general composition, relative position and size, and motion of objects in the solar system, including planets, planetary satellites, comets, and asteroids.

Life in the Universe Curriculum Links to Standards

Each unit in the Life in the Universe Curriculum is linked to National Science Standards and the 5-9th grade curriculum directly applies to the 9th grade California State Standards. See additional links to CA Content Standards below. The third through sixth grade curriculum will work extremely well with self-contained classrooms as the simulations are integrated units that include reading, writing and cultural components that can be linked to multiple standards. The first unit in the 5th/6th grade curriculum, Evolution of a Planetary System, directly relates to many of the 6th grade CA Earth Science standards. Although in its entirety the 6th through 8th grade units connect most specifically with the CA State Science Content Standards for 8th grade, they infuse basic scientific understandings that can be applied to any grade level and provide a solid understanding of the Solar System that will prepare students with the skills necessary to be successful on the Eighth Grade CST for Science.

Curriculum Files

Grade 3 - 4 | The Science Detectives

3rd Grade California State Standards: Earth Sciences
Objects in the sky move in regular and predictable patterns. As a basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • The patterns of stars stay the same, although they appear to move across the sky nightly, and different stars can be seen in different seasons.
  • How the moon's appearance changes during the four-week lunar cycle.
  • Telescopes magnify the appearance of some distant objects in the sky, including the moon and the planets.
  • The number of stars that can be seen through telescopes is dramatically greater than can be seen by the unaided eye.
  • The Earth is one of several planets that orbit the sun, and the moon orbits the Earth.
  • The position of the sun in the sky changes during the course of the day and from season to season.

Grades 5 - 6 | The SETI Academy Planet Project

Volume 1
Evolution of a Planetary System
5th Grade California State Standards: Earth Science

The solar system consists of planets and other bodies that orbit the sun in predictable paths. As a basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • The sun, an average star, is the central and largest body in the solar system and is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium.
  • The solar system includes the Earth, moon, sun, eight other planets and their satellites, and smaller objects such as asteroids and comets.
  • The path of a planet around the sun is due to the gravitational attraction between the sun and the planet.

Plate Tectonics and Earth's Structure
Plate tectonics explains important features of the Earth's surface and major geologic events. As the basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • The fit of the continents, location of earthquakes, volcanoes, and midocean ridges, and the distribution of fossils, rock types, and ancient climatic zones provide evidence for plate tectonics.
  • The solid Earth is layered with cold, brittle lithosphere; hot, convecting mantle; and dense, metallic core. Lithospheric plates that are the size of continents and oceans move at rates of centimeters per year in response to movements in the mantle. Earthquakes are sudden motions along breaks in the crust called faults, and volcanoes/fissures are locations where magma reaches the surface. Major geologic events, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and mountain building result from plate motions.

Shaping the Earth's Surface
Topography is reshaped by weathering of rock and soil and by the transportation and deposition of sediment. As the basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • Water running downhill is the dominant process in shaping the landscape, including California's landscape.
  • Rivers and streams are dynamic systems that erode and transport sediment, change course, and flood their banks in natural and recurring patterns
  • Beaches are dynamic systems in which sand is supplied by rivers and moved along the coast by wave action.
  • Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and floods change human and wildlife habitats.

Heat (Thermal Energy) (Physical Science)
Heat moves in a predictable flow from warmer objects to cooler objects until all objects are at the same temperature. As a basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • energy can be carried from one place to another by heat flow, or by waves including water waves, light and sound, or by moving objects.
  • When fuel is consumed, most of the energy released becomes heat energy.
  • Heat flows in solids by conduction (which involves no flow of matter) and in fluids by conduction and also by convection (which involves flow of matter).
  • Heat energy is also transferred between objects by radiation; radiation can travel through space.

Energy in the Earth System
Many phenomena on the Earth's surface are affected by the transfer of energy through radiation and convection currents. As a basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • The sun is the major source of energy for phenomena on the Earth's surface, powering winds, ocean currents, and the water cycle.
  • solar energy reaches Earth through radiation, mostly in the form of visible light.
  • heat from Earth's interior reaches the surface primarily through convection.
  • convection currents distribute heat in the atmosphere and oceans.
  • differences in pressure, heat, air movement, and humidity result in changes of weather.

Volume 2

How Might Life Evolve on Other Worlds?
7th Grade California State Standards: Evolution
Biological evolution accounts for the diversity of species developed through gradual processes over many generations. As a basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • Both genetic variation and environmental factors are causes of evolution and diversity of organisms.
  • The reasoning used by Darwin in making his conclusion that natural selection is the mechanism of evolution.
  • How independent lines of evidence from geology, fossils, and comparative anatomy provide a basis for the theory of evolution.
  • How to construct a simple branching diagram to classify living groups of organisms by shared derived characteristics, and expand the diagram to include fossil organisms.
  • Extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient for its survival.

Volume 3

The Rise of Intelligence and Culture
6th Grade California State Standards: History: World History and Geography: Ancient Civilizations
Students describe what is known through archaeological studies of the early physical and cultural development of humankind from the Paleolithic era to the agricultural revolution.

  • Describe the hunter-gatherer societies, including the development of tools and the use of fire.
  • Identify the locations of human communities that populated the major regions of the world and describe how humans adapted to a variety of environments.
  • Discuss the climatic changes and human modifications of the physical environment that gave rise to the domestication of plants and animals and new sources of clothing and shelter.

Grades 7 - 8 | Life: Here? There? Elsewhere? The Search for Life on Venus and Mars

7th Grade California State Standards: Investigation and Experimentation
Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept, and to address the content the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:

  • Select and use appropriate tools and technology (including calculators, computers, balances, spring scales, microscopes, and binoculars) to perform tests, collect data, and display data.
  • Utilize a variety of print and electronic resources (including the World Wide Web) to collect information as evidence as part of a research project.
  • Communicate the logical connection among hypothesis, science concepts, tests conducted, data collected, and conclusions drawn from the scientific evidence.
  • Construct scale models, maps and appropriately labeled diagrams to communicate scientific knowledge (e.g., motion of Earth's plates and cell structure).
  • Communicate the steps and results from an investigation in written reports and verbal presentations.

Grades 8 - 9 | Project Haystack: The Search for Life in the Galaxy

8th Grade California Science Standards: Earth in the Solar System
The structure and composition of the universe can be learned from the study of stars and galaxies, and their evolution. As a basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • Galaxies are clusters of billions of stars, and may have different shapes.
  • The sun is one of many stars in our own Milky Way galaxy. Stars may differ in size, temperature, and color.
  • How to use astronomical units and light years as measures of distance between the sun, stars, and Earth.
  • stars are the source of light for all bright objects in outer space. The moon and planets shine by reflected sunlight, not by their own light.
  • The appearance, general composition, relative position and size, and motion of objects in the solar system, including planets, planetary satellites, comets, and asteroids.

9th -12th California Science Standards: Earth's Place in the Universe
Astronomy and planetary exploration reveal the structure, scale, and change of the solar system over time. As a basis for understanding this concept, students know:

  • how the differences and similarities among the sun, the terrestrial planets, and the gas planets may have been established during the formation of the solar system.
  • evidence from Earth and moon rocks for the solar system's formation from a nebular cloud of dust and gas approximately 4.6 billion years ago.
  • evidence from geological studies of the Earth and other planets that the early Earth was very different from today.
  • evidence that the planets are much closer than the stars.
  • the sun is a typical star and is powered by nuclear reactions, primarily the fusion of hydrogen to form helium.
  • evidence for the dramatic effects of asteroid impacts in shaping the surface of planets and their moons, and in mass extinctions of life on Earth.
  • Evidence for the existence of planets orbiting other stars.