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Program Wildest Weather in the Solar System

  • Tips & Modifications


    If students have difficulty understanding temperatures that are below zero, draw a thermometer on the board and mark where the mercury falls with different temperatures in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. Talk about temperatures on Earth. For example, if you are using Fahrenheit (F), mention 100 degrees F being very warm, 32 degrees F being freezing, 212 degrees F being the boiling point for water, and temperatures below zero being very cold for humans. Then talk about temperatures on another planet, drawing and numbering another thermometer. Students will have trouble imagining such temperature extremes, but they will understand that they are extreme.

    1. Compare ways of investigating weather on Earth and on other planets in our solar system.

    Explain to students that scientists and meteorologists investigate weather on Earth in several ways:

    • They measure weather with thermometers and other tools.
    • They view the weather from satellites above Earth’s atmosphere.
    • They use photography and video to capture images of major weather events.

    Ask: What is weather like on other planets? How do you think scientists investigate weather on other planets? Have students draw their ideas about what weather is like on other planets and how scientists investigate it. Then tell students that they will explore the answers to these questions in this activity.

    2. View and discuss the video “Solar System 101.”
    Show students the National Geographic video “Solar System 101.” Ask students what types of information about the planets might help us understand what the environments are like on each planet. Write students’ ideas on the board. Elicit responses such as temperature, winds, presence of water or ice, or whether a planet is made of gas or rock/soil. For each characteristic, ask: What might this tell us about the weather on that planet?

    3. Have students complete a worksheet to analyze weather conditions in our solar system.
    Distribute copies of the handout Solar System Environments to each student. Read aloud the directions and answer any questions students may have. Review any vocabulary that is new to students, such as math terms minimum, maximum, and mean and science terms wind speed, moons, gaseous, and rocky. Help students practice using the information in the chart by looking for the hottest planet or the planet with the highest wind speed. Then distribute copies of the worksheet Planet Investigation. Have students work in pairs or small groups to complete the worksheet. Emphasize that in worksheet questions six and seven, there are no right answers. Help students use information from the handout to inspire their ideas. Make sure students understand that scientists still ask questions and seek more information about the planets in our solar system—even if that planet has been explored already.

    Informal Assessment

    Ask students to explain which planets they think may be good for weather study and why. Then have them imagine they are scientists studying solar system weather, and have students each write a question they would want to answer about wild weather on another planet or dwarf planet.

    Extending the Learning

    You can use this series of activities to prepare students to design their own space probe. If so, let students know that each of these activities is leading to that goal. Encourage them to think of ideas for their probe as they move through the activities.

  • Subjects & Disciplines

    • Science

    Learning Objectives

    Students will:

    • describe weather conditions on other planets in our solar system

    Teaching Approach

    • Learning-for-use

    Teaching Methods

    • Brainstorming
    • Discussions
    • Multimedia instruction
    • Visual instruction

    Skills Summary

    This activity targets the following skills:

    • Critical Thinking Skills
      • Analyzing
      • Understanding

    National Standards, Principles, and Practices

    National Science Education Standards

  • What You’ll Need

    Materials You Provide

    • Drawing paper
    • Pencils
    • Pens

    Required Technology

    • Internet Access: Required
    • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector, Speakers
    • Plug-Ins: Flash

    Physical Space

    • Classroom


    • Large-group instruction

    Other Notes

    In 2006, the status of Pluto was changed from a planet to a dwarf planet. A dwarf planet is not gravitationally dominant. It shares orbital space with other bodies of similar sizes.

  • Background Information

    Scientists and astronomers are interested in learning more about our solar system. Before exploration takes place, even via remote sensing by probes or satellites, scientists and engineers must consider environmental conditions such as weather. They must design equipment that can handle extremes of temperature, wind, and other factors.

    Prior Knowledge

    • planets in our solar system


    Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    mean Noun

    mathematical value between the two extremes of a set of numbers. Also called the average.

    meteorologist Noun

    person who studies patterns and changes in Earth's atmosphere.

    moon Noun

    natural satellite of a planet.

    Encyclopedic Entry: moon
    planet Noun

    large, spherical celestial body that regularly rotates around a star.

    Encyclopedic Entry: planet
    satellite Noun

    object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or made by people.

    solar system Noun

    the sun and the planets, asteroids, comets, and other bodies that orbit around it.

    space probe Noun

    set of scientific instruments and tools launched from Earth to study the atmosphere and composition of space and other planets, moons, or celestial bodies.

    temperature Noun

    degree of hotness or coldness measured by a thermometer with a numerical scale.

    Encyclopedic Entry: temperature
    thermometer Noun

    device that measures temperature.

    Encyclopedic Entry: thermometer
    weather Noun

    state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

    Encyclopedic Entry: weather
    wind speed Noun

    force and velocity of wind.

    For Further Exploration



Lockheed Martin