When it comes to space for kids, it’s an exciting opportunity to explore a vast topic that’s interesting, full of science, and still full of unknowns. There are many questions. What is outer space itself? What planets have we landed on? Space for kids is a fantastic learning journey. Here’s where you can get started.
What Is Space?
Space is everything that’s beyond Earth’s atmosphere. It starts at the Kármán Line, about 62 miles above the planet’s surface. That’s the point where the atmosphere stops scattering light. Earth’s atmosphere contains all of our air, but there is no atmosphere beyond it, which is why space often looks black. Though sound as we know it is not present in space because there is no air for sound to travel, scientists have detected sound’s presence by using equipment to see it. So, what is outer space? What’s out there?
Exploring Space for Kids: What is Outer Space?
Outer space isn’t an empty area but an area that’s made up of other solar systems, galaxies, energy, and matter. Scientists don’t know how big space is, but they continue to study and learn about it. To measure distances in space, scientists use light years, representing the time it takes for light to travel in a single year. That’s about 5.8 trillion miles. Using that method, scientists have determined that the oldest light in the universe measures 13.8 billion years. Researchers are not sure if our universe is the only one, which means there could be much more to space than we know. So what is outer space? It’s made up of many components.
Throughout the universe are planets, which are celestial bodies that move around the sun. To be labeled a planet, these bodies must have a round shape and have their own gravity. Earth is a planet. There are numerous planets in our solar system, a group of celestial bodies that move around the sun.
In our solar system, there are eight planets:
- Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. It takes Mercury just 88 days to orbit the sun.
- Venus, often referred to as a twin to the Earth, is next, though it is much hotter than our planet.
- Earth is third in line, and it’s the only planet known to have life on it.
- Mars, also known as The Red Planet, is our neighbor. It has a significant amount of oxidized iron, giving it its red color.
- Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and has 79 moons.
- Saturn is easy to recognize because it has rings around it. It’s made of ice and rock.
- Uranus is the third largest planet and is noted for its blue color thanks to the methane in its atmosphere.
- Neptune is the farthest from the sun, making it the lowest-temperature planet.
What about Pluto? Though it was once considered a planet, scientists took that status away from Pluto, naming it a celestial object. There’s much controversy over that, and it may one day be renamed a planet. As you continue to learn more about space for kids, you’ll find many unanswered questions and theories that have changed over time.
What Planets Have We Landed On?
What planets have we landed on? The furthest any human has gone is the moon. However, there have been probes that have landed on Venus and Mars. Mars has been explored many more times than other planets. In the past, scientists have tried to land on Mercury. They haven’t yet mastered that process because of how fast the planet moves and the surface conditions. Be sure to come back and ask, “what planets have we landed on?” again. It could change as we reach deeper into space.
10 Facts About Space for Kids
Space for kids can be a lot of fun. Check out these fun facts about space.
- Did you know that The Apollo II astronauts were the first people to land on the moon? Though the Soviets made it to space first, the U.S. got to the moon before anyone else.
- While people have not gone back to the moon since that landing, there have been lots of developments in instruments like the Kepler Space Telescope, which has identified thousands of exoplanets orbiting other stars in galaxies far from ours.
- Did you know that Voyager 2, a crewless spacecraft, traveled past Uranus? It is the only space probe that has made it to Uranus to study the planet’s surface and atmosphere.
- The majority of space is empty. There are some areas where bits of dust and gas are floating around. Because space is without an atmosphere, there is no drag on spacecraft unlike planes on the Earth which feel wind resistance pushing against them.
- The two biggest mysteries in space are dark energy and dark matter. Dark energy is an unknown force that makes up 75% of the universe, and it’s what is responsible for the universe’s expansion. Dark matter makes up about 80% of the mass in the universe.
- Many galaxies have black holes, only visible through the radiation they generate. When a black hole is active, it creates a massive amount of radiation and is called a quasar.
- Extrasolar planets are any planets that are located outside of our solar system. What is outer space? It’s filled with unique structures like these.
- Asteroids are rocks that are not big enough to be considered dwarf planets. There is an asteroid belt that is located between Mars and Jupiter that orbits around the sun with numerous irregularly shaped bodies.
- The International Space Station is the largest modular space station currently moving through Earth’s orbit. It travels at a rate of 4.76 miles per second at a max speed of 17,4000 miles per hour. You can visit NASA’s website to find out what’s being studied on the Space Station at any time.
- Cosmic rays travel through the solar system. These are believed to be coming from supernovas outside our solar system.
Past, Present, and Future of Space Exploration
Space has allured many people throughout history, and that’s why many attempts have been made to explore it. The first-time humans entered space was in October of 1957 when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics launched a satellite to orbit the planet. That satellite was called Sputnik. A month later, they launched Sputnik ll, a satellite that carried a dog into space.
The United States, in competition with the Soviets, entered the space race on January 31, 1958, by launching the Explorer satellite into orbit. That same year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created.
The first person to enter space was Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, on April 12, 1961. He orbited the Earth for 108 minutes. Alan Shepard of the U.S. was launched into space on a suborbital trajectory, a flight that goes into space but does not orbit the planet. It lasted 15 minutes.
Through the coming years, many more achievements were made. What about space exploration of the future? There’s no limit to what could be done. Today, scientists continue to work on ways to land on Mars and have sent many probes into deep space to learn more about space.
Why Is Learning About Space for Kids So Important?
Teaching about space allows for the creation of future astronauts and space researchers who, one day, could develop strategies for exploring deep space or uncover mysteries that are still unknown. Space sparks imagination and helps build curiosity about important science topics impacting our planet. It also helps to create a sense of respect for our planet, which could help to encourage children to take steps to protect the earth.
STEM Activities for Kids
Make space for kids a lot of fun. Remember those questions? What is outer space? What planets have we landed on? The best way to learn about space for kids is to ask questions and dive deep into research. Experiments help, too!
By utilizing a wide range of STEM resources, it’s possible to build a love for space and teach valuable concepts. There are many types of applications to consider when it comes to space for kids, but here are some ideas to help you get started.
#1: What Is Outer Space? Find Out By Exploring Space-Related Apps
There are lots of fun space-related learning apps available that can be an easy way to start the exploration of space right from home or school. Some of the best include:
- Night Sky: This app is a fantastic tool for stargazing. It can help you identify stars and planets in the night sky. It’s simple to use. Turn on the app, then hold your phone towards the area of the sky. You’ll learn what’s up there!
- Spaceflight Simulator: This app allows for tips and strategies for building rockets, attempting landings, and launching flights, all with fantastic educational material include. The game is all about building a way to explore space.
- Stars and Planets: This app is an excellent tool for improving education about the universe and celestial bodies.
#2: Build a Telescope or Rocket
Building a telescope or a rocket can be an excellent way to learn about the overall process of launching into space and the universe around us. NASA offers a fantastic telescope-building project that uses mailing tubes and convex lenses to create a refracting telescope. You can learn to make a simple rocket using some basic items around your home. There are many STEM projects around this type of project to try out.
#3: Make Your Own Moon Shoes
Why not learn how to make your own moon shoes? Moon shoes come in various forms. The simplest options include using two tin cans (like the type coffee grounds come in), some core or rope, and a drill. The goal is to drill holes into each side of the coffee tins to run a rope through them. When you step on the top of the cans and pull the strings up in each of your hands, you’ll have moon shoes! Try balancing on these as you walk across the yard to get a feel for the way astronauts felt on the moon.
#4: Design a Space Lander
Do you want to create an impressive space lander that could land on the moon or even one of the distant planets? NASA offers a fun project that allows you to explore things like forces, gravity, and motion. You can use things like marshmallows and cardboard to help you learn a bit more about how space landers function and why they don’t crash into the surface.
#5: Build Planet Models
What is outer space? Planets! Learning about each of the planets is a fun way to learn about space and its impact on the world around us. Making a planet model is a good way to do that. Your goal is to create a representation of our solar system. You can design each of your planets based on how they look in space and get a very accurate representation of how far away they are. Scout Life offers fun projects that are easy to make with items you may already have at home.
#6: Learn About Constellations
Constellations are patterns of stars in the sky that we think look like a wide range of objects. Here’s a simple project for you. Do some research to learn about the constellations that may appear in your area’s night sky. Then, take an index card and dray the constellation on it. Poke holes into the card where the stars are. Then, head outside on a clear night to position the card where the stars line up so you can spot the constellations.
Space Programs for Kids
Space for kids is a fun way to explore a vast range of science topics. What is outer space? What planets have we landed on? There are lots of fun questions like these to explore. Providing students with a wide range of ways to engage in space education allows them to see the bigger world around them and even beyond. Here are a few of the space programs for kids that are already out there. Tap into them to apply what they have to teach to kids of all ages.
NASA Kids’ Club is an excellent, free tool that offers a wide range of online programs and resources to help kids learn about space. You can find lots of projects, tap into live demonstrations and activities, and download tools to help with space-themed activities.
For students who really love space and who are between the ages of 9 to 11, Space Camp may be just what they need. This is an educational experience that teaches STEM elements in a space context. It is an in-person program that happens at various times of the year. There’s often a waitlist to get into it.
Kennedy Space Center
Camp Kennedy Space Center is an exceptional program for students from 7 to 16 that takes place over five days at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex in Florida. Students learn about Mars habitation and surface exploration, take STEM challenges, tackle engineering builds, and experience a simulated space flight to Mars itself.
Space Center Houston
Houston is another center for space exploration, and Space Center Houston is at the heart of it. Various programs are available here, including trips the whole family can take. Choose from overnight experiences, day caps, and even Space Center U, which provides the ultimate in preparation for being an astronaut.
You may be able to find other space camps and programs near you. Turn to local science centers and museums to find out what they offer. Some college campuses also offer programs.
Are you still asking questions like what is outer space and what planets have we landed on? These are just some of the topics to cover in space for kids learning opportunities.
National Geographic, “The History of Space Exploration”
NASA.gov, “Exploring the Solar System”
Space Center Houston, “Education Programs”