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Good Astronomy Activities on the World Wide Web


Planets and Satellites: General

Changing Faces: Solar & Planetary Rotation:

Students model and explore how we tell a body in space is rotating. First they simulate rotation in the school yard, and then they watch movies on the internet that show both planetary features and sun-spots rotate. [e,m]

Crazy Craters:

In this nice activity from the book Moons of Jupiter from the GEMS Program at the Lawrence Hall of Science, students do a variety of activities to simulate how cratering occurs by dropping and throwing objects at a chocolate-powder surface on top of flour. This is perhaps the most thorough version of a classic activity (see the "Impact Cratering" ones later in this section.) [a]

Exploring the Planets: Using Images:

Students examine some intriguing images from planetary exploration and try figure out what they are seeing. Dennis Schatz' "Planet Picking" activity does this better, but this one is on the Web. [a]

Flexing Muscles and Moons:

Students measure the effect of gravitational flexing (which keeps Io and Europa's interior warm) by taking the temperature of some flexible rubber balls. They also do calculations about the force of gravity. [m]

How Much Would You Weigh on Distant Planets:

Students view Web movies of astronauts on the Moon and discuss what they can learn about one's lunar weight; a calculator is provided to get their weight on other planets; a discussion of the causes of weight and gravity is then suggested with different hypotheses. [m]

How Old Are You [On Different Planets]:

Simple calculation activity to figure out your age on worlds with different orbital periods. [e,m]

Invent an Alien:

This classic activity by Dennis Schatz asks students to invent a more-or-less plausible life form that could survive on one of the moons and planets in our solar system. [a]

Impact Cratering:

Students drop projectiles into a tray of sand, make craters on various types of surfaces, and measure their results in this set of projects by Ron Greeley. [m,h] (A similar activity, with more detail, is at:

Impact Craters:

Students simulate planetary impacts by throwing hard objects onto a simulated lunar surface. Good as far as it goes, but fails to point out a crucial difference with the real world: on the planets, the impacting bodies explode making craters much bigger and rounder than the ones the students will obtain. [m,h]

Lift the Planets:

Students get a sense of the mass of the planets by asking: if the Earth's mass were 1 penny, how many pennies for the other worlds. Gives the answers in a table, but the best thing would be to let students calculate for themselves. [m,h]

Making Months:

A horrible web address hides a cute little calculation activity by Evan Manning that emphasizes the difficulty of making calendars from unconnected astronomical periods, by asking students to come up with a calendar that will work for an imaginary planet. [m.h]

Mapping the Topography of Unknown Surfaces:

Teams of students making a martian landscape (from contour maps) inside a shoe box, while other teams use probing rods to figure out the topography without looking (much as a radar altimeter in a spacecraft helps scientists do). This is an adaptation of the Venus Topography box activity (see next section) that can be used for any world. [m,h]

Playground Ellipse Activity:

Very basic activity in which students construct an ellipse, using rope and two stakes in the ground. [e, m]

Robots from Junk:

Student teams design a simple "rover" that can explore its environment, using suggestions and easy-to-find materials (simulating how the Mars Pathfinder rover was designed.) More engineering than science, this activity is included here as a placeholder for dozens of such activities found around NASA sites. [h]

Search for Ice and Snow:

In this cute activity by Alan Gould, students pretend they are alien visitor desperate for snow and ice, and use a web-based selection of Earth images (from space) to figure where the ice and snow are on our planet. The technique has applications in finding icy regions on other worlds. [e,m]

Solar System Trading Cards:

Simple web-based interactive game in which students answer factual questions about the solar system and collect "solar system trading cards". It's no threat to Pokemon, but if you teach solar system factoids to young kids, this may be a fun review. [e]

Sun's Impact on Earth's (and Other Planets') Temperatures:

Use data from the internet to examine planetary temperatures and weather patterns, and then to test hyptheses about the Sun's effects on planetary climate [m,h]

Take A Spin Through the Solar System:

Students use the internet to gather information and images to help determine the rotation rate of bodies in the solar system.

Toilet Paper Geologic Time Scale:

Elizabeth Roettger's activity uses a roll of toilet paper to measure out the 4.6-billion year time span since the Earth formed to scale. Includes a list of major events in biology and geology over that span. [h]

Your Weight on Other Worlds:

Presents a behind-the-scenes calculator to help students figure out what they would weigh on other planets, moons, and stars. Some teachers may prefer to have students do the calculations on their own. [e,m]

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