Pluto for Youth Programs!

This is a free curriculum developed by NASA, targeted for 4th grade and up.  Listen to our telecon with NASA education expert, Leslie Lowes about this great collection of activities.  

July 14, 2015. Youth today are the first in all of history to see what the mysterious dwarf planet Pluto looks like up close, as the New Horizons spacecraft flies by Pluto after 9 years' journey from Earth!  Below you'll find a special compilation of activities and resources for leaders of afterschool/summer programs to guide your youth in understanding and participating in this never-before-experienced event!

This series of specially selected activities and resources are well-suited for use in out-of-school settings for upper elementary and middle school-aged youth (grades 4-7).  Each activity session of approximately 40 minutes each can be done independently or as a series in 8-10 sessions, and features mostly off-the-shelf materials, several styles to appeal to a variety of learners, the development of teamwork skills, and a culminating event for youth to share their experience with other students, their parents, and their community.

Join the NASA Museum Alliance for Afterschool/Youth Groups and get more!


Objectives for this Pluto for Youth! series

  • Understand the size and scale of the solar system
  • Be aware of Pluto's place in the solar system and how far away it is!
  • Be aware that that the New Horizons spacecraft is the first ever to explore Pluto up close
  • Understand and be able to model how scientists communicate with spacecraft over such vast distances
  • Understand how we explore the solar system with robotic spacecraft
  • Experience the excitement of being the first generation to ever see the details of Pluto's surface, and contribute to public experience of the event
  • Know where to go to learn more

Prepare and Understand

Activity Set 1. The Solar System in Your Neighborhood (size and scale)  (download 774 KB)

Session 1 provides hands-on experience with familiar items to introduce youth to the relative size of the planets in our solar system (and Pluto) using food items from the grocery store and some simple math.

In Session 2 youth fold and mark a map of their school site or neighborhood to understand the distances involved in actually sending a spacecraft to other planets (and Pluto) in our solar system.

Activity Set 2. Learn about Pluto and the New Horizons mission

Artist's conception of New Horizons spacecraft flying by Pluto with moon Charon in the distanceSession 1.  Create a “Notice/Know/Wonder” Chart and post on the wall next to a picture of Pluto. Youth write their observations in the “What I Notice” column, and write questions they have about Pluto in the “What I Wonder” column.  Teams of 4 read and share Fun Facts about Pluto.

Session 2. Design and build models of Pluto and the New Horizons spacecraft, then fill in the "What I Know" column of the “Notice/Know/Wonder” Chart with what they have learned.

Social Media Session.  Just how dim is the sunlight on Pluto, some three billion miles away?  For just a moment during dawn and dusk each day, the illumination on Earth matches that of high noon on Pluto.  We call this “Pluto Time.”  NASA wants to see your view, using a new interactive widget that provides the approximate time, based on your location.

Be sure to keep up with the latest images and news from New Horizons as it gets closer to Pluto.

Activity Set 3.  Capturing a Whisper from Space (download 5.0 MB)
Capturing a Whisper from Space Deep Space Network poster front cover showing antenna

Special antennas on Earth talk to the robotic spacecraft whereever they are in the solar system.  How can we communicate with something so far away with such a faint signal?  Practice being a deep-space listener and a sender in this 3-session series.




Activity 4. Strange New Planet (download 211 KB)

Why flyby Pluto and not hang around longer?  Strange New Planet allows participants to engage in a simulation of the process and sequence used in planetary exploration to progressively gain new information about unknown objects. Through asking questions and seeking new information, this activity demonstrates how planetary features are discovered and investigated by the use of remote sensing techniques – from telescopes to robotic missions.




Wednesday, July 14, 2015!  Make your plans to hold a New Horizon's Pluto Flyby event for youth and families at your program!  New Horizon's closest approach to Pluto is July 14, 2015 and the first of the close-up images come out the next day.  Anticipate the action with this "play-by-play" video of what New Horizons' activity around flyby-time.

Celebration 1. Have kids demonstrate some the activities for other youth in the program, or for their family at pick-up time.  This kind of culminating activity is a celebration about what the students have learned. It can potentially appeal to all learning modalities.

Celebration 2. Show the flyby live with these options (requires internet connection):

          July 14, 2015 7:30-8:15 am Eastern Daylight Time
          NASA TV Broadcast: Countdown to New Horizon's Closest Approach to Pluto

          July 14, 2015 7:49:58 am Eastern Daylight Time
          Closest approach to Pluto, 7800 miles above the surface

          July 14, 2015 TBD pm Eastern Daylight Time
          Flyby confirmation signal expected

          July 14, 2015 8:00-9:15 pm Eastern Daylight Time
          NASA TV "Phone Home" Post-Flyby Broadcast

          July 15, 2015 Times TBA
          First Close-Up Images Released

See the PlutoPalooza page from the New Horizons mission for further information on Pluto and other resources to use in events for kids.


Activity 5.  Art and the Cosmic Connection.

Student artist drawing of planetary body surface featureYouth have the opportunity to interpret Pluto's geologic surface features through art.  What do these captivating images tell us? In just a short time, with the tools provided in this program, learners of all ages can begin to understand and interpret the features on distant objects in our solar system.

When you have completed the activity, submit your art work based on New Horizon's new images of Pluto and its moons.

Join Us and Get More

Join the NASA Museum Alliance for Afterschool/Youth Groups, tell us about your experience celebrating Pluto, and get the latest updates on other exciting space activities ... from out-of-school to outer space!  We'd love to have you in the family.