Aliens, Planets and Nebulae! Mission 5: Science Investigation

Mission: Science Investigation of a Newly Found Moon

Level(1-5): Unknown Risk

Location: Outer Edge of the First Galactic Arm

Description: At the edge of the First Galactic Arm there is a newly discovered moon with gravitational anomalies. The planet that the moon orbits is a free floating planet with no star and no life. Very little has been explored in this area of the galaxy. The MASS has sent your crew to investigate the gravitational anomalies that have been observed through long range sensors.

Sensor data shows that there is inconsistency in the area’s gravity. Because there are no science outposts or stations within a reasonable distance, your crew will be alone with very little communication abilities – so be careful.

Assignment: Your crew will need to first demonstrate how gravity works in a controlled environment where the effects are known. Next, the crew will need to design an experiment that will measure gravity on the new moon.

Note: This is a good time for the facilitator to add conditions for solutions to incorporate other subjects (science, history, writing, etc.).

  • For Facilitator Eyes Only: The moon is actually orbiting a planet that is orbiting a larger planet in an elliptical, yet erratic orbit. As it gets close to the larger planet gravity will increase. The plan is to have them design an experiment that will measure gravity on the moon. Once they have a design, then give them results that show the gravity is changing on the moon in cycles that cannot be described by the current planet-moon orbit. Make sure that they understand how gravity works on Earth (here is an activity).
  • If any members of the crew propose that there is another celestial body in this problem, then you can disclose their dangerous situation and have them evacuate the planet:
    • The orbit is fast and erratic and will end in the complete destruction of all planetary bodies involved.
    • The crew will narrowly escape death and send their data to the MASS.
  • If the crew does not suggest a third celestial body, then allow for investigation into various orbits and research on the subject. There are tons of physics demonstrations to play with here (hula hoop with cloth and marbles in orbits). Another fun program to run is universe sandbox:

Ability Point Potential (rough rubric):

  • 2 ability points will be awarded for showing how gravity works on Earth. (Falling objects accelerate uniformly.)
  • 2 ability points will be awarded for an experiment design on the new moon.
  • 2 ability points will be awarded for quick thinking and creative reasons for anomalies.

Facilitator Notes:

  • If students do not come up with solutions or suggestions for anomaly, the facilitator can choose the path in the game to go (destroy the ship, lose some abilities, or lose part of the ship).
  • I highly recommend running Galileo’s experiment with rulers, timers and marbles to discover gravity.

Mission 5 Wrap-up

Once learners are ready, have them present their solutions. If there are key pieces missing then ask questions. Discussion is key here – encourage problem-solving even during their presentation. The facilitator and learners may opt for iterations of their solutions.

Once solutions are finalized, award ability points.

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