You’ve seen the pictures. Maybe you’ve even been lucky enough to see it for yourself. The gloriously colored, amazing annual light show that is the Perseid meteor shower is going on right now, showing at a location near you until August 24.
Divine in appearance, meteor showers happen when planets – like Earth – move through streams of debris left by a comet. The Perseids are the debris field from the Swift-Tuttle comet, which is one of the oldest known comets, with sightings dating back 2,000 years. The Swift-Tuttle comet is also the largest object known to make repeated passes near Earth.
Comets, meteors, and asteroids have long fascinated kids and adults alike. The Chicxulub asteroid is credited by many scientists as being THE asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs; its impact crater is located beneath the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. A new asteroid was just detected in a region of the planet Neptune’s orbit, in a gravitational “dead zone” where no objects were previously thought to exist. Halley’s Comet, arguably the most well-known comet, is most famous for appearing right before the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It’s only visible about every 75 years or so, and it won’t appear again until mid-2061. If you miss the Perseids this year, the Leonid meteor showers will be visible in November this year, with peak viewing dates of November 17-18.
Most students, regardless of age, like studying space science and astronomy. My picks this week all focus on meteors, comets, and asteroids – those small pieces of rock or ice that make a big impact on our imaginations. The three resources below are all from the Lunar and Planetary Institute, a NASA-funded institute in Houston, Texas that is devoted to studying the solar system and sharing the wonder of space exploration with the public. The educational division develops education and public outreach programs, as well as producing materials such as newsletters, lesson plans, image atlases, and other educational resources. All lessons are aligned to national science standards. As always, please be sure to check our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week, where we will post links to more resources on asteroids, meteors, and comets for a variety of ages.
A Tale of Trails
Subjects: Astronomy, Earth science
In this activity, students create an “Earth” box containing some of Earth’s biomes, such as desert, forest, tundra, ocean, or mountains, along with Earth’s atmosphere. They then simulate Earth’s encounter with a comet trail and the resulting meteor shower. Students discover that most meteoroids burn up in Earth’s atmosphere and that only a small percentage land on Earth as meteorites. And even though meteorites are evenly distributed across Earth’s surface, some are more easily found than others.
Dry Ice Comet
In this activity, students use dry ice and other materials to construct a demonstration model of a comet. Students learn about the structure of comets, such as the nucleus, coma, and tails. They also learn about the interactions between comets and the Sun. While the activity is primarily aimed at kids aged 10-13, it can also be used for younger students aged 8-9.
Space Rocks! A Meteorite Board Game
Students play a meteorite board game that reinforces their understanding of the origins of meteors, meteoroids, and meteorites. They also learn about the characteristics and importance of these space rocks, while tackling some common misconceptions.
~Joann's Picks - 8/19/2010~