On August 7, 1996, a chunk of rock made front-page news. It was a meteorite from Mars that was believed to contain fossils of one-celled life forms. Although that particular claim is still the subject of much debate, scientists are still intrigued by the possibility that microbes from Mars may have once seeded the Earth. In this Science Update, you'll hear about an unusual experiment that could help provide the answer.
This 24 minute planetarium show teaches about meteors, meteorites, asteroids, and comets. The show was created for fulldome theaters, but is also available on DVD to be shown in flat version for TVs and computer monitors, and can be freely viewed online. It shows the effects of the Chixulub and Tungusta events, plus the Pallasite impact that resulted in the Brenham meteorite fall, and describes ways that asteroid hunters seek new objects in the solar system, and how ground penetrating radar is used to find meteorites that have survived to the Earth's surface. Narrated by astronaut Tom Jones, it also discusses ways that humans might try to deflect an asteroid or comet that is on a collision course with Earth. The show was created for informal science venues (digital planetariums); it is also useful as supplemental material for middle school science. Impact Earth is available for free if presented directly from the Space Update site (widescreen or fisheye views linked from YouTube). Otherwise, a DVD of the show can be purchased for $10.
Students will experimentally learn how meteoroids are formed. They will melt a comet, learning about its composition, and break apart asteroids. The students learn the differences between meteoroids, meteors and meteorites and how the impact of asteroids/meteoroids can affect life on Earth.
This is a 30 minute lesson where students will be able to:
1. Describe the size, composition, and motion of meteors and comets.
2. Discuss the similarities and differences in comets and meteors.
a. what happens to meteors as they fall through the atmosphere
b. why comet debris is observed as a meteor shower from the Earth
c. how the planet's gravitational forces affect a comet's orbit.
d. why we see a comet's tail.
e. why a comet disintegrates when it gets close to the sun.