Digging into Comets

The solar system is littered with Ice. The bulk of this material orbits quietly in the outer Solar System, but sometimes something disturbs the ice and it comes plunging in toward the Sun. In this lesson, we will discuss comets, how we explore them, and how they brought water to worlds like Earth. ages 12+

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 9.14.22 AMSummary: This activity is designed to introduce students to comets. Using inquiry methods, students will learn where comets come from, how they are discovered, and how they survive for multiple passages through the inner solar system. While learning these concepts, students will also gain familiarity with the following software: Stellarium, Astometrica, and Salsa-J.

Keywords: comets, Kuiper Belt, minor planets, Oort Cloud, orbit, Solar System, water

Age Level: appropriate for ages 12 and up (US grade 6 and higher)

Time required: minimum of 1 lab block or 2 classes. Preferably, 3 class periods.

Video Teacher Training:
Part 1: Interview with ScientistsPart 2: Overview of lesson

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Additional Downloads:
Instructors’ Guide PDF or DOC

Student Workbook .PDF .DOCX

Next Generation Science Standards (Adaptable for 1,5,MS,HS):

  • ESS1.A: The Universe and Its Stars – Patterns of the apparent motion of the sun, the moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, predicted, and explained with models.
  • ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System- The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them.
  • SEP: Developing and Using Models
  • CCC: Systems and System Models- Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions.
  • CCC: Scale, Proportion, and Quantity- Time, space and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

Big Science Ideas

  • All material in the Universe is made of very small particles.
  • The composition of the Earth and its atmosphere and the processes occurring within them shape the Earth’s surface and its climate.

Pre-Requisite Knowledge

  • Planets and other objects move on elliptical orbits around the Sun
  • Phases of matter include solid, liquid, gas
  • The heat/brightness of the Sun and other heat sources decreases with distance

Sequence of activities (minimum 2 class periods or 1 lab block)

  • Engage:           Building a comet
  • Explore:           Comet Discovery
  • Explain:           Comet Survival
  • Elaborate:       Where do comets originate?
  • Evaluate:         Are all comets coming from the same place?

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