There are two types of activities in ExoQuest, Background Modules and Mission Modules. Background Modules cover general topics that help prepare students for the Mission Modules. Background Modules introduce students to concepts and techniques that are explored in more detail in the missions.

Mission Modules are based on past, present, and future NASA astrobiology missions. Each module poses a specific question that students attempt to answer by conducting both simulated and hands-on experiments. For these experiments students select their instrumentation, collect data, analyze the data, and interpret their results.

Background Modules

To Whom It May Concern    Students explore past attempts by humans to communicate with intelligent extraterrestrials and play the role of ET as they try to decode the messages. Students will also compose their own message and decide the best way to encode and send it.

Distance and Time    Students travel on virtual trips to destinations in our solar system, to nearby and distant stars, and to other galaxies. By using different modes of transportation, they discover the true size of our universe and how likely it is that human beings will ever travel to the stars.

Requirements of Life    All life on Earth shares certain basic requirements. Students speculate on what these requirements might be and then explore a variety of environments and lifeforms to learn about the necessary conditions for life.

Drake-ulator    In 1961 Dr. Frank Drake proposed a simple equation that gives scientists a means of estimating the probability of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life. Although the equation is simple, the rationale for choosing the appropriate values to plug into it is not. Students use the Drake-ulator to explore contradictory opinions regarding the Drake equation, and to listen to video commentary by Dr. Drake himself.

Remote Sensing    Searching for signs of life in the universe is not easy, in part because much of our search is conducted over great distances. Students explore the techniques used to observe distant planets and stars and discover that much of the useful information we get from our observations is not available in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

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Mission Modules

Stuff of Life    All life on Earth has one thing in common, chemical building blocks. In this module, students investigate the biochemistry of life on Earth.  Then they use this knowledge of the "stuff of life" to explore the solar system in search of biochemical environments capable of supporting life. 

Water in the Solar System    Water is necessary for all life on Earth; and wherever there's water there's life. For these reasons, many scientists believe that other locations in the solar system that have liquid water are the most likely to support life. In this module, students explore the environments where we find liquid water on Earth.  They then look for environments elsewhere in our solar system where the temperature, pressure, and humidity are in the range where liquid water can exist.

Extreme Environments    Life can be found almost everywhere on Earth, from the hottest deserts to the coldest reaches of the arctic, from the tops of the tallest mountains to the deepest parts of the ocean.  Scientists study organisms that live in these extreme environments to learn about the limits of life. In this module, students visit six extreme environments here on Earth to measure temperature, pressure, pH, salinity, and the availability of water, and to study the organisms that live under such extreme conditions.

An Ocean on Europa    Recent observations of Jupiter's moon Europa have led some scientists to believe that there may be an ocean of liquid water beneath Europa's icy surface. Because water is so important to life, a great deal of interest is now focused on Europa. This module simulates the upcoming Europa Orbiter mission and takes students to Europa to look for evidence of tides, a sure sign of a liquid ocean.

Viking Exobiology Experiments    In 1970 the first experiments designed to look for signs of life on Mars were launched aboard the Viking spacecraft. This module takes students along on a Viking mission where they conduct the Viking experiments on the surface of Mars. When they return to Earth they will conduct the same experiments, and then compare the results.

Search for Extrasolar Planets    It has only been in the last few years that planets orbiting distant stars have been discovered. But the methods used to find these planets can only reveal relatively large gas giants like Jupiter. This limitation will be overcome with the upcoming Kepler mission, which will use a new technique that is sensitive enough to detect even small, Earth-like planets. In this module, students will use Kepler to observe several stars over a period of time, then determine the size and distance from the stars of any planets that they find.

Extraterrestrial Communications    The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) uses large radio telescopes to search the sky for signals sent by other civilizations. In this module students record radio signals from distant stars, then compare their data with signals from known sources, such as neutron stars, pulsars, or Earth-based radar.

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