Imaginary aliens help to learn about the Solar System and life outside Earth

The game, available in “Print and Play” format, can be freely downloaded and printed.
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“E.T. calls home.” In this game, the phrase from Steven Spielberg’s iconic film doesn’t work. It will be up to the players to take the sixteen creatures from other worlds, lost in the Solar System, to their homes. It is this challenge that the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences (IA) proposes to everyone, but in particular to those between the ages of 8 and 12, to get excited together with facts about planets and moons in our cosmic neighbourhood, and about the conditions necessary for life outside our blue planet.

ET – An Adventure in the Solar System” is a board game, launched online on January 17 in Portuguese and English, and which presents itself as an educational resource, free of charge, and scientifically validated by a national research unit. “The goal of this game is to create interest in young people for Space and the search for life outside Earth, the astrobiology. We used as a strategy a theme already popular among our target audience: extraterrestrials,” says Catarina Leote, from the IA’s Science Communication Group and coordinator of the project that, in collaboration with the IA’s Planetary Systems Group, led to the design and production of the game.

The game, available in “Print and Play” format, can be freely downloaded and printed. Then, all you need to do is cut it out and assemble it, lacking only pawns and a dice to begin this fun adventure, in the company of the illustrations of the aliens created by Paulo Galindro and with the design of the board and other accessories by Sara Patinho. It is a fun and educational activity for families and a useful tool for teachers who want to introduce the world of astronomy to their students.

So what are the challenges for the players? Firstly they have to get to know their territory, that is, the worlds of the Solar System – the planets, but also several of their moons, some of them real targets in the current search for life outside Earth. To do this, players have to answer questions, which will give them access to cards with information and mini-puzzle pieces from the illustrations of the sixteen E.T.s. They can trade the pieces with other players until they get the complete picture. Only then can they set themselves the final goal: guess the world of origin of their alien.

The creatures that represent E.T.s are all imaginary, but their anatomy is based on scientific facts about various environments in the Solar System. If these aliens actually existed, they would almost certainly call these places “home sweet home”. “The discussion [about the creation of the E.T.s] was scientific in nature and so the information conveyed, which is related to the environments in the game, is good, solid science. The E.T.s were an interesting exercise of imagination”, says Pedro Machado, researcher from the IA and the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon (Sciences ULisboa), and one of the researchers who participated in the creation of elements for the game.

This board game also includes an aid: a booklet with complementary information about planets, moons and small bodies in the Solar System, as well as essential notions about the search for life outside Earth, or astrobiology.

The graphic aspect was another priority, says Catarina Leote. “We created the E.T.s based on physiognomic and physiological characteristics necessary for them to live adapted to their planets or moons, and so there were representation conditions that had to be met in the drawing,” she explains. “The end result was a combination of our descriptions and Paulo Galindro’s talent and creativity.”

The game “ET – An Adventure in the Solar System” was funded by the Europlanet Society as it was one of the winning proposals in the Europlanet 2020 RI Public Engagement Funding Scheme competition. In a next phase it will have versions in other languages, such as Spanish, French and Italian.


This article is published in o largo. under the project “Culture, Science and Technology in the Media” (Cultura, Ciência e Tecnologia na Imprensa), promoted by the Portuguese Press Association

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