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Surveying the Solar System

Investigation total duration
2 hours


Driving Question

Rubin Observatory is going to discover thousands of new Solar System objects. How will we know if these objects are part of a group of small Solar System objects that already exist or if they are a brand new type of object?


The storyline process is intended to be student-driven and to connect lessons within the unit. The Surveying the Solar System investigation, including this phenomenon, would fit best into unit storylines geared towards understanding objects within our Solar System.

Possible storylines include:

  • Besides the Sun, planets, and moons, what other kinds of objects make up the Solar System?

  • What are the differences in the types of small objects in the Solar System?

  • What evidence do we have that the Sun and Solar System were formed by the collapse of a spinning cloud of gas and dust?

  • How do gravitational interactions between objects in the Solar System affect their motions?

Instructions for Introducing Phenomenon

  1. Before class starts, arrange a Driving Question Board (DQB) so it is visible to all students. This can be created using sticky notes or in a digital format (see other resources here). The DQB should include the specific driving question for this lesson, “Rubin Observatory is going to discover thousands of new Solar System objects. How will we know if these objects are part of a group of small Solar System objects that already exist or if they are a brand new type of object?” Students will be revisiting this DQB throughout the lesson.

  2. Present students with the Phenomenon: Asteroid Discovery video. (For more information on this video, see Teacher Background below). This 5-minute video shows the rate of discovery of asteroids from 1970 - to 2015. Students can watch the video as a whole class or individually on their own devices. As students are watching, encourage them to record their observations and write down questions. (5 minutes)

  3. After playing the video, have students individually develop their own questions they have about the video. Students should record their questions on sticky notes. One sticky note per question. (5 minutes)

    Below are some prompts that would help students develop their questions. Tell students, “The questions you ask may:
    1. Clarify and/or seek additional information about the phenomenon."
    2. Be investigative within the scope of available resources."
    3. Refine the video model of the asteroids within the Solar System."

Some possible student questions::

  • What do the different colors represent?

  • Why are there more green objects compared to red objects?

  • Could there be more of these objects beyond Jupiter?

  • What is causing the sudden large bright white clusters of objects to appear?

  • Could any of these objects hit Earth?

4. After students have written their own questions, have them share their questions with the whole class. These questions should be displayed on the DQB for all students to refer to. (5 minutes)

5. As a whole class, facilitate a discussion about the questions. Begin by identifying and grouping common questions into categories. See an example in the below chart. (10 minutes)

Organizing Student Questions

Example Category

Student Questions


  • Why do the objects appear in different colors (red, yellow, white, green)?
  • Why are there a few sudden white bursts appearing in large clusters?


  • Do these objects exist beyond Jupiter?
  • Could any of these objects hit Earth?

6. Revisit the lesson-specific driving question and tell students they will be completing an investigation that will help them answer this driving question and their generated questions. Questions remaining at the end of the investigation should be encouraged to be further explored through independent study.

7. Begin the Surveying the Solar System Investigation.

Teacher Background Information

Explanation of Video:

This video provides an explanation of what is going on in the Phenomenon: Asteroid Discovery. Use this resource to help answer the remaining questions at the end of the investigation.

After the Investigation - Making Sense of the Phenomenon

  1. Hold a class discussion as students look back at the remaining questions on the DQB. What questions can we answer? What additional questions do you have? Encourage students to independently investigate any remaining questions they have.

  2. Ask students follow-up questions to make sense of the Phenomenon and apply their understanding in a new way:
  • Predict how the video would look different if it were to be updated in 2030, including TNOs and Comets.

    Answers will vary. More advanced technology will lead to an increase in the discovery of all objects, especially TNOs and comets as they are harder to discover due to their distance and dim albedo. Additional small NEOs and MBAs will also be discovered. In 2030, a new time-lapse will most likely show these additional discoveries, especially around the years of the beginning of operations of the James Webb Telescope and Rubin Observatory.
  • There is a group of yellow objects that become more apparent towards the end of the asteroid discovery video. These yellow objects are different from NEOs, MBAs, TNOs, and comets. Make a claim based on orbital property evidence to defend how these yellow objects are different.

    Answers do not need to be correct but need to be supported with evidence from the video.