Extra-terrestrial life is the existence of life outside of the Earth. Are we alone in the universe? So far the only life we know about inhabits our planet – Earth – but there are planets that orbit other stars in a similar way to how the Earth orbits the Sun.

This question could be set as it is to individual students, or it could be set up as a debate. Students could be allocated (or choose) to support or oppose the funding cuts to SETI and argue their case. Each side should be given some time to research their case and then give 5 minutes to make a presentation. After hearing both sides, questions can be asked from the teams or the audience. The class could be split into smaller groups with several groups on each side.

To hold a debate officially requires students to take on different roles. Have a look at the BBC Newsround teachers' site for more information on everyone's role in a debate:


Curriculum links

Curriculum opportunities 4a. debate, in groups and whole-class discussions, topical and controversial issues, including those of concern to young people and their communities
4c work individually and in groups, taking on different roles and responsibilities
4g take into account legal, moral, economic, environmental, historical and social dimensions of different political problems and issues
4h take into account a range of contexts, such as school, neighbourhood, local, regional, national, European, international and global, as relevant to different topics

Scottish Curriculum

Science - Curriculum for Excellence level 4 SCN 3-06a. Planet Earth - Space: By using my knowledge of our solar system and the basic needs of living things, I can produce a reasoned argument on the likelihood of life existing elsewhere in the universe
SCN 4-06a By researching developments used to observe or explore space, I can illustrate how our knowledge of the universe has evolved over time
SCN 4-20a. Topical Science: I have researched new developments in science and can explain how their current or future applications might impact on modern life
SCN 4-20b. Having selected scientific themes of topical interest, I can critically analyse the issues, and use relevant information to develop an informed argument
Environmental Science National 4 & 5 Potentially relevant to modules: Earth's Resources (living and non-living environment components of the Earth)

Physics National 4 & 5

Potentially relevant to modules: Space (solar system and its exploration)

Bad news for ET


antennaeIn April 2011, The SETI Institute announced it had been forced to place its telescope arrays into hibernation. This means they are being shut down (although they could be used again in the future). SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It seeks evidence of life in the universe by looking for some evidence of its technology. For example on Earth we have been making use of radiowaves as our technology advances (eg in radios, mobile phones etc). Our use of different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, including artificial light, could be detected in space. At SETI, the telescope array is made up of a giant field of radio dishes that scan the universe for signals that might come from alien civilisations.

Funding from the US government has been cut and the SETI Institute says without this funding it can no longer afford to keep running. SETI is appealing for public donations to help return the telescope array to operations.



Was the government right to cut funding to SETI?

  • SETI is trying to raise $5 million for the next two years. Although this is a large amount of money it is only a small fraction of the US government's spending each year which is $3.8 trillion.
  • Decide what you think about this and create a 5 minute presentation to make your case. You could work in a group of people. The way you present this is up to you!

This information might help: