Choosing a Habitable Planet: Data Analysis Activity

The year is 2029 and global warming disaster scenarios have become real - temperatures have increased drastically, glaciers have melted and sea levels have risen at an alarming rate, displaying 20% of the population. World leaders are desperate to create sustainable space colonies. Your spaceship is ready to launch to start a space colony and it is your job to determine which planet is the best choice for human habitation. What planet will you choose and why?

Activity Goals 

The main purpose of this activity is to apply charts and graphs skills to analyze data. The planet data will be provided in accessible digital formats (bar charts, pie charts and series charts) using SAS Graphics Accelerator. Using accessible digital charts and graphs, students will learn to navigate the graphs and analyze data using the SAS Graphics Accelerator.

This lesson was created by the SAS Accessibility Team and first used with high school students and recent high school graduates in the NC SAVVY Program. The original written lesson plan  and links to the charts and graphs is available on the SAS website.

 Start your lesson by reviewing both planet knowledge and graph skills. 

Review Planet Knowledge

What is the order of the planets? Many of us remember this using, "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles" or Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Fun Fact: Pluto was downgraded in 2006 to a dwarf planet because it did not meet one of the three criteria that IAU uses to define a full-sized planet. (Here are more details about Pluto's downgrade.)

Review Graph Knowledge

Practice students' charts and graphs skills first using activities in the first post, Charts and Graphs Skills Review, which reviews tactile/print graph skills and then introduces and teaches how to use accessible digital charts and graphs. Students should be familiar with basic sonification (using sounds to represent meaning) through the Charts and Graphs Skills Review activities. If more sonification practice is required, repeat those activities using additional graphs available in this post or from the SAS website. Review sonification graph skills with this post, Sonification: Sounds have Meaning Activity post.

Common Screen Reader Keyboard Commands for the Accelerator

  • When in Scan Mode, use right or left arrow keys to play the entire graph forwards or backwards
  • When in Scan Mode, use Shift + Right Arrow to play the entire graph from left to right
  • When in Scan Mode, use Shift + Left Arrow to scan the entire graph right to left
  • When in Explore Mode, use right or left arrows to move point-by-point right or left through the graph
  • Use "D" to cycle between Speed settings
  • Use "V" to cycle between Scan and Explore mode

See Help button for all of the screen reader keyboard commands. Use the Settings button to change settings if a screen reader is not being used.

Activities

Activity #1: Temperature

Use the Bar Chart Showing Mean Temperature to determine which two planets have temperatures close to Earth's mean temperature.

Note: The arrow key will only work when the cursor is on the chart.

  • Using Google Chrome as your Internet browser, open the bar chart
  • Select the Accelerate button located below the chart on the right side
  • Confirm Scan Mode: Settings > Navigate > Scan
  • Confirm Fast Speed: Settings > Speed > Fast
  • Scan the bar chart for a quick overview of the chart: Move focus to the chart then use right arrow key
    • Which planet is an anomaly? (Venus) Why?
  • Change to Explore Mode: Settings > Navigate > Explore
  • Manually navigate through data points: Move focus to the chart then use right arrow key

Note: The screen reader will announce the X and Y-axis (Example: X-axis = Mercury; Y-axis = 333.) That information is visually displayed to the right of the chart.

What is Earth's mean temperature? (59 degrees Fahrenheit). What two planets have mean temperatures closest to Earth? Is it too hot or cold to safely go outside? Could you farm in these temperatures? Which planet has a temperature most similar to Earth?

The image below is the Bar Chart Showing Mean Temperatures of the planets. For an accessible version of the chart, open and explore the temperature chart in the Accelerator.

Photo of Bar Chart Showing Mean Temperatures

What are additional factors when considering which planet is most compatible for human life?

Activity #2: Gravity

Use the Bar Chart showing Gravity to determine which two planets are similar to Earth.

Use the Scan mode for a quick overview of the chart. What is the anomaly?

Use point-by-point navigation in Explore mode to examine bar chart Gravity by Planet.

  • Use left and right arrow keys to move between bars
  • Use ctrl + left arrow to move to the left side of the graph
  • Use ctrl + right arrow to move to the right of the graph

Can you walk or jump? Can you carry heavy objects? Would you have to tie things down so they do not float away? Which planet has the strongest gravitational force? The weakest?  What planet is most compatible to the gravity on Earth?

The image below is the Bar Chart Showing Gravity. For an accessible version of the chart, open and explore the Bar Chart Showing Gravity using the Accelerator.

Image of Bar Chart Showing Gravity.

Activity #3: Length of Day

Use the Bar Chart Showing Length of Day by Planet.

Can you sleep if the sun was out for a very long time? Can you farm if the nights were very long? Would you want to have really short 9 or 10 hour days? Which planet has days most similar in length to Earth?

The image below is the Bar Chart Showing Length of Day by Planet. For an accessible version, open and explore the Length of Day bar chart in the Accelerator.

Image of the Bar Chart Showing Length of Day of Planets.

Activity #4: Gas in Atmosphere

Use these three pie charts to compare the atmosphere on Earth, Mars, and Venus.

The image below shows the pie chart, Percent Volume by Gas for Earth's atmosphere. Nitogren is 78.080, Oxygen is 20.950 and other is .975

Pie Chart showing Percent Volume of Gas for Earth's Atmosphere

What are the two major components of Earth's atmosphere? Which gas do humans need to breathe? What is the most abundant gas in Mars's atmosphere? Does Mars's atmosphere contain the gas that humans need to breathe? What is the most abundant gas in Venus's atmosphere? Does Venus's atmosphere contain the gas that humans need to breathe? What are your conclusions about how habitual these planets are for humans?

Activity #5: Relative Temperature by Year

Use the Series Chart Showing Relative Temperature by the Year.

Explore the chart using Scan Mode. Slow down the Speed and listen to the Speed and listen to the chart again. Navigate the chart point-by-point. Is it easier to get an overall view of the graph in Scan mode or Explore mode? What information can you glean from the temperature by year? 

The image below shows the Series plot showing Relative Temperatures by Year. The Y-axis ranges from -.5 to 1 in increments of .5 and the X-axis ranges from 1775 to 2025 in 25 year increments.There are numerous data points in a jagged line with an increasing trend.

Image of Series chart showing Earth's Relative temperature by Year

Conclusion of Analysis

Which planet is most likely to be habitable for humans? What are the pros and cons of this planet. Out of these variables, what can you live with and what can you NOT live without?

What can we control? (Example: A biosphere can control temperature and plants can grow in a biosphere.

What is causing global warming? (Carbon monoxide)

Where should we send our space craft and build our space center?

Summary

The students participating in this activity eagerly dove into the data and excitedly discussed their analysis and conclusions. Students argued different view points and stayed actively engaged through out the activities. First-choice planet changed after each new graph; the data gleaned from each graph was used to shape evolving opinions. Because they were so involved in gathering information, forming their opinions and avidly discussing their thought processes, the students did not pause to think about how the process of using the Accelerator - the Accelerator was simply a tool they used to access the graphs! When asked to summarize their thoughts about the activity, the students were amazed at how much information they were able to obtain and how quickly this information was gathered. One student exclaimed, "I never knew charts could be so useful - and FUN!"

Resources

SAS Graphics Accelerator Posts

The first post in this series reviews tactile/print graph skills and introduces accessible digital graphs (sonification) using the SAS Graphics Accelerator. Do the activities in review post prior to the activities in the Choosing a Habitable Planet post.

There are a number of additional Accelerator posts; here are a few to help you get started!