Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 – 24 September 2021
Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 September – 24 September 2021
EPSC Abstracts
Vol. 15, EPSC2021-20, 2021
European Planetary Science Congress 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Assembling aliens to explore the Solar System

Catarina Leote1,2, Sérgio Pereira1,2, João Retrê1,2, Pedro Machado1,2, Gabriella Gilli1,2, José Silva1,2, Ruben Gonçalves1,2, Pedro Sarmento1,3, and Alejandro Cardesín1,4
Catarina Leote et al.
  • 1Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Science Communication, Portugal (
  • 2Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa (Ciências ULisboa)
  • 3Universidade do Porto (UPorto)
  • 4European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC)

Assembling aliens to explore the Solar System

After analysing the school curricula until 7th grade (13 years old), we concluded that, at least in Portugal, there is a limited coverage of astronomy subjects. This situation is also often accompanied by limited training of primary and medium school teachers and limited availability of resources in their mother tongues, as language can also be a barrier for the use of existing resources. In addition, some astronomy concepts require a level of abstract thinking that might be discouraging for some children. The end result is that some children will have a low interest in astronomy, not only because of their personal preferences but as a consequence of low exposure to the subject or a negative perception towards it. To address this situation, the Science Communication Group of Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço (IA) developed a board game about the Solar System, aimed at children from 6 to 12 years old, and adapted to both formal and informal educational contexts. This project, “Help your Alien – A Solar System Game”, was funded in 2019 by the Europlanet Society through its Public Engagement Funding Scheme.

Why a board game?

By opting for a board game instead of a digital platform, we made the conscious decision of valuing the power of storytelling and social interaction as engaging and focus-promoting learning strategies, unlike the information and stimuli overload sometimes present in digital environments. Another choice made to make the game as appealing and relatable to our target public as possible was to start with a more familiar perspective, biology, as children of this age group will certainly be familiar with “animals” and their characteristics. We made a leap forward towards astrobiology, and created imaginary aliens somehow adapted to their planets and moons. While trying to assemble these imaginary creatures, in a 3-piece puzzle, the game players have to gather information about different objects of the Solar System and discover the home planet of their assembled aliens.  Another reason for creating a board game was the possibility of reaching different publics, in particular those perhaps not immediately interested in astronomy. With “ET – A Solar System Adventure”, we hope to engage children but also their families (parents, grandparents, siblings…), just for the sake of playing, while exposing them to knowledge about the Solar System.

Development of the game

The game was developed in a collaborative creative process by members of the Science Communication Group and researchers in Planetary Sciences of the IA, combining knowledge in science communication and different publics with scientific knowledge. Even though the game mechanics was inspired in already existing and well-tested games, the whole process of creating this game involved many challenges, from defining the level of complexity while keeping the game engaging, to the adventure of “creating” aliens somehow physiologically adapted to different planets and moons of the Solar System. Mistakes were made and the team had to adapt to the unexpected challenging situation of a pandemic. This resulted in many lessons learned that we hope to share with the community. The game is now at its final stages of production, with the prototype being converted into a polished version with professional illustration and design. A “Print and Play” version in Portuguese and English will soon be made available online on our website. Physical copies will also be produced depending on funding.

In our presentation, we will present our game, as well as the premises and goals behind it, its development process, the challenges found along the way, the lessons learned and some strategies to cope with the “new normality” imposed by Covid-19, while advancing the project. We hope the presentation of “ET – A Solar System Adventure” in the EPSC2021 will help to promote this tool for planetary science education among formal and informal educators and to find international collaborations for the translation and local promotion of the game, as well as additional funding for the production of physical copies in different languages.

How to cite: Leote, C., Pereira, S., Retrê, J., Machado, P., Gilli, G., Silva, J., Gonçalves, R., Sarmento, P., and Cardesín, A.: Assembling aliens to explore the Solar System, European Planetary Science Congress 2021, online, 13–24 Sep 2021, EPSC2021-20,, 2021.