“Astronomers announced on Tuesday that they had found eight new planets orbiting their stars at distances compatible with liquid water, bringing the total number of potentially habitable planets in the just-right Goldilocks zone to a dozen or two, depending on how the habitable zone of a star is defined.” D. Overbye New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: So Many Earth-Like Planets...By D. Overbye, NYT
“NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, now in its fifth year of seeking out the shadows of planets circling other stars, has spotted hundreds, and more and more of these other worlds look a lot like Earth — rocky balls only slightly larger than our own home, that with the right doses of starlight and water could turn out to be veritable gardens of microbial Eden.
As the ranks of these planets grow, astronomers are planning the next step in the quest to end cosmic loneliness: gauging which hold the greatest promise for life and what tools will be needed to learn about them.
The planets unveiled on Tuesday were detected by a group led by Guillermo Torres of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
On Monday, another group of astronomers said they had managed to weigh precisely a set of small planets and found that their densities and compositions almost exactly matched those of Earth.
Both studies are expected to be completed in the next few months, and could affect plans for a former spy telescope bequeathed to NASA three years ago. Astronomers hope to launch it in the early 2020s to study dark energy, and they plan to include a coronagraph to search for exoplanets, according to Paul Schechter of M.I.T., chairman of a design team.
All of this will be grist for the mill at the end of the decade when a panel of the National Academy of Sciences produces its wish list for astronomy in the 2020s.
For all of Kepler’s bounty, a planet like Earth, of the same size orbiting the same type of star, has not yet been confirmed. The most terrestrial of the new worlds announced Tuesday are a pair known as Kepler 438b and Kepler 442b, both orbiting stars slightly smaller, cooler and redder than our sun. Kepler 438b is only 12 percent larger than Earth in diameter and has a 35-day year; Kepler 442 is a third larger than Earth and has a 112-day year.”
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking.Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the topic. Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Doses of starlight and water could turn out to be veritable gardens of microbial Eden.
- As the ranks of these planets grow, astronomers are planning the next step.
- The quest is to end cosmic loneliness.
- The planets unveiled on Tuesday were detected.
- And yet we still do not have a clue that we are not alone.
- So far, Kepler has discovered 4,175 potential planets.
- Most planets are too far away for detailed study.
- Dr. Seager is investigating the concept of a starshade.
- All these are small and potentially habitable.
- The work complements and tightens studies done last year.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, is in its tenth year of seeking out the planets circling other stars.
- Scientists found a set of small planets with densities and compositions almost exactly like those of Earth.
- Alien life was discovered on one small planet.
- The job of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will be to find alien life forms closer to home.
- The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will be launched in 2017.
- Scientist Karl Stapelfeldt heads a group at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
- One of the main goals of these studies is to have any chance of seeing signs of life on terrestrial planets.
- For all of Kepler’s bounty, a planet like Earth, of the same size orbiting the same type of star, has not yet been confirmed.
- By the year 2020 scientists will definitely know that there is life on other planets.
- An Italian telescope in the Canary Islands is used to measure planets’ masses to determine their densities.
Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- As the ranks of these planets grow, astronomers is planning the next step.
- NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, is now in its fifth year of seeking out the shadows of planets.
- The planets were unveiled on Tuesday.
- On Monday, another group of astronomers managed to weigh a set of small planets.
- Both groups announced their findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.
- And yet we still do not had a clue that we are not alone.
- We can count as many as we like.
- Finding Goldilocks planets closer to home will be the job of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.
- Both studies are expected to be completed on the next few months.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
1. The following three statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each one, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.
“We can count as many as we like…but until we can observe the atmospheres and assess their greenhouse gas power, we don’t really know what the surface temperatures are like.”
“For all of Kepler’s bounty, a planet like Earth, of the same size orbiting the same type of star, has not yet been confirmed. The most terrestrial of the new worlds announced Tuesday are a pair known as Kepler 438b and Kepler 442b, both orbiting stars slightly smaller, cooler and redder than our sun.“
“All these are small, all are potentially habitable… Most of these planets have a good chance of being rocky, like Earth.”
2. With the members of your group discuss the possibilities of life on other planets. Decide what “alien” life forms might look like.
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.