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Good Astronomy Activities on the World Wide Web


Planets and Satellites: Specific Worlds

Detecting Patterns and Movement in Saturn's Rings:

Students make a flip-book of images showing the "spokes" in Saturn's B ring. Requires a good printer to make images with reasonable resolution. [e,m]

Europa Wedges Activity:

This activity is basically such a clever idea, we are recommending it despite the fact that the presentation of it on the Web is much more cumbersome and difficult to use than it has to be. Part of the evidence that has convinced many planetary scientists that Jupiter's moon Europa has a global ocean under its icy crust is that wedges of this crust seem to have rotated and slipped out of their original position. Here, students are encouraged to learn more about the Europa images, and then to rotate the wedges on one picture back to their original position (as in a jigsaw puzzle) to show how the jumbled structure we see might have originated. Requires various plug-ins to your browser to work right. [m,h] (A simpler version of this activity, to be done with printed paper versions of the image, can be found at:

Exploring Mars: Geography & Mission Planning:

Students are asked to research what martian explorers might find on Earth at the latitudes and longitudes where we landed spacecraft on Mars. [m,h]

Exploring Mars: Old, Relatively:

Students examine an image of part of the Mariner Valley complex on Mars with craters and landslides, to see which features formed in what order. The web-based image has the property that students can click on any part of it to get more information. [m,h] (A similar activity using an image with outflow channels and craters is found at:

Graphing Stratospheric Ozone:

Downloading and making graphs from satellite data about concentrations of ozone in the Earth's atmosphere; encourages discussion of social issues involved. [h]

How Does Flowing Water Shape a Planet's Surface:

Interesting activity, in which students use an inexpensive "stream tray" to simulate the flow of water on sandy terrain, compare their results to features seen in martian images, and then try to replicate some of the features seen on Mars. Has good instructions and background material. [m,h]

How Thick is the Earth's Atmosphere?:

Just a quick calculation activity to show students how thick the Earth's atmosphere is compared to the radius of the solid Earth. [m,h] Incredible Light Bulb/Egg Drop Challenge:

To simulate the dropping of the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft on Mars using airbags, teams of students are challenged to find a way to drop an egg or lightbulb with enough cushioning to prevent them from breaking. Fun! [m,h]

Investigating the Martian Polar Caps:

Students use internet resources and image processing to measure and compare the martian and terrestrial polar caps at different seasons, and analyze their results. [m,h]

Jovian System:

Simple graphing activity, in which students plot the mass, radius, orbital period, and density of the Galilean satellites versus their distance from Jupiter and are led to think about their results. [m,h] (see also at:

Jovian System Scale Model:

A brief activity for younger children to make a human scale model of the Jupiter system and to act out how the Galileo probe and orbiter entered the system. [e]

Looking for Young Features on Europa:

This is an image processing activity (using a free program called NIH Image) in which students analyze an intriguing image of Europa sent back by the Galileo spacecraft and learn how to tell the relative ages of the features on that satellite's surface. [m.h]

Mars Landform Identification:

Straightforward activity by Peter Mouginis-Mark, in which students are given definitions of various geological landforms that can be seen on Mars and are then shown Viking orbiter images and asked to identify which types of landforms can be seen on each image. Comes with a visual identification key. [m,h]

Mars Quest:

A collaborative group activity in which teams of students use internet resources to develop a traveler's guide for martian explorers. [m,h]

Martian Sun-Times:

An interesting activity by two teachers at the University of Chicago Laboratory School in which students become reporters for a martian newspaper, and have to do stories about the weather on the red planet. Students get martian weather information from the Web and then make deductions about current weather, seasons, climate, dust storms, etc. [m.h]

Observing Changes in Saturn's Atmosphere:

Students study atmospheric patterns on Saturn, and then make a convection cell in a coffee maker to simulate what happens in Saturn's atmosphere. [m,h]

Venus Topography Box:

This classic activity, developed by Larry Lebofsky and his collaborators, simulates the exploration of a cloud-shrouded world with radar. You set up a "terrain" inside a closed box, and then students explore it with long probes (such as chopsticks) through holes in the box cover. Fun and instructive. (There is a good print version of this in Universe at Your Fingertips. See also "Mapping the Topography of Unknown Surfaces" in the previous section.) [a]

What Can Craters Tell Us about a Planet?:

This activity is very similar to the "Crazy Craters" and the two impact crater activities listed in the previous section, but is fleshed out with specific information about martian craters. Students brainstorm about craters seen on images sent back from Mars, try to replicate them by making their own craters, and then are challenged to explain more complex landforms on the red planet. [m.h]

What Can Sand Indicate About How and Where Water Flowed:

Students examine different kinds of sand and apply what they learn to analysis of martian sand samples. The teacher has to go out and find a variety of sand samples for the whole class, which may deter some teachers. [m,h]

What is So Special about Pathfinder's Landing Site:

Students look at images of the Ares Valley region of Mars, where Pathfinder landed, and try to see what they can learn from them about the geology and geological history of the region. Unfortunately, the activity was written before Pathfinder landed, and has not been updated with what the mission actually discovered. [m,h]

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