We gave the workshop Exoplanets on Sight to 30 middle school students (8th and 9th grade) from public and private schools of the northwest of Puerto Rico (near de Arecibo region). In the workshop the students learned about astrobiology science and exoplanets with a visual tour of the Solar System from NASA imagery and Earth's past from the PHL's Visible Paleo-Earth imagery. We presented the current and future efforts to study exoplanets, emphasizing the possibility of Earth-like planets. The students were not happy to learn that scientists are only capable to see exoplanets as simple dots in a few cases, using direct imaging techniques, but that was not a limitation for the imagination of the students.
The activity of the workshop was to visualize exoplanets, from Earth-like planets to giant planets, by modeling hypothetical exoplanets with ping-pong balls and some paint. The students were very enthusiastic to paint their planets based on what they learned about the planets and moons of the Solar System. Their modeled exoplanets were photographed agains a dark background with a digital camera (see below for the result). We were surprised by the imagination of the students.
The workshop Exoplanets on Sight was part of the two-week summer program ISMuL's STEM Camp where the students are learning about current topics in science and technology, participating of hands-on activities in aeronautics, robotics, and rocket science, and guided tours to caves, a planetarium, and the Arecibo Observatory. The program was sponsored by the Integrated Science Multi-use Laboratory (ISMuL), NASA Puerto Rico Space Grant and the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.
These are the 30 modeled exoplanets out of painted ping-pong balls created by middle school students as part of the workshop Exoplanets on Sight. Of course, you can create exoplanets with NASA Extreme Planet Makeover, but it is much cooler to create them by hand, they look prettier too. Can you identify the Earth-like planets?