The Universe in the Classroom

The Return of Halley's Comet

Resource Corner

As the comet approaches, an enormous amount of resource material will be available for teachers. We will review the best of these in future issues. In the meantime, here is a selection of good resources that are already available.


Chapman, R. and Brandt, J.: The Comet Book: A Guide for the Return of Halleys Comet (1984, Jones and Bartlett) — Excellent book for teachers, featuring comet science, comet lore, and good suggestions for observing the comet.

Branley, F.: Comets (1984, T.Y. Crowell) — good picture book for students in grades K-3.

Krupp, E.: The Comet and You (1985. Macmillan) — an illustrated book for students grades K-4; ready in February 1985.

Schatz, D.: The Comet Cometh: An Activity Book for the Return of Comet Halley — (a teacher's guide to be published in 1985).

Articles for Teachers (or High-School Students):

Bortle, J.: "Brighter Prospects for Halleys Comet'' in Sky and Telescope Jan. 1984, p. 9.

Glenn, W.: "Halley's Comet Makes a Comeback'' in The Science Teacher Jan. 1984, p. 38.

Neugebauer, M.: "The Comet Fleet'' in Mercury, May/June 1984, p. 66.


Comets and Comet Halley — A set of 31 slides and detailed captions by Dr. John C. Brandt of NASA; produced by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

Computer Software:

Halley's Comet (Starsoft, P.O. Box 2524, San Anselmo, CA 95472; for IBM computers)

Halley's Comet on Your Home Computer (S & T Software. 13361 Frati Lane, Sebastopol. CA 95472; for Apple computers)

(Both of these provide information and plot the position of the comet).

Note: An illustrated catalog of useful educational materials in astronomy is available from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (390 Ashton Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112) and includes a number of the above resources.

Activity Corner: "Invent an Alien''

by Dennis Schatz, Pacific Science Center

(c) 1985 by Dennis Schatz. While teachers may copy freely for classroom use no commercial reproduction is permitted.

This activity is ideal to enhance a unit concerning the solar system for grades 4-8. It helps students learn about the planets and moons, uses their language and art skills, encourages use of library resources, and promotes creative thinking.

To construct a model of an Alien Being that could exist on another planet or satellite in our solar system.
Any common items found around the house.
Paper and pencil
The purpose of the activity is to encourage students to learn about the planets through an enjoyable project that encourages their creativity. The scientific accuracy of their Alien Beings may not be as important as the learning and reasoning processes they go through as they construct their alien.

Place the name of each planet or satellite the class will be studying (except the Earth) on separate slips of paper. Make enough slips so there is one for each student in the class. Place the slips of paper in a hat or box and have each student pick a world. The students should not reveal to other members of the class which world they have.

Tell the students that their goal is to construct the model of an Alien Being that could live on the world they picked. These should be three-dimensional models made from any material they can find around the house. Give the students a week to ten days to complete the task. Ask them also to write half-page to one page descriptions of their Alien Beings, stating why they have the characteristics the students have selected. The day you assign the project is an appropriate time to discuss what some of the requirements are for a "Being'' to exist on a given world. These should include:

  1. a means to get food
  2. possibly a way to move around the planet
  3. a way to breathe
  4. other means to sense the environment, equivalent to our five senses
  5. other suggestions they may have, such as the effects of a gravitational pull that is much larger or smaller than we experience
You may find this is a good discussion to have again after they have researched the nature of their worlds, but before they actually start constructing their Alien Beings.

This activity will require that the students use the library resources available at the school and in the community to determine the characteristics of the planets. If possible you should examine what references the libraries in your area have. Good resources could include:

  1. Encyclopedias (preferably no more than three years old)
  2. Odyssey Magazine
  3. National Geographic (see list below)
  4. Recent books about the planets
On the day that the Alien Beings are due, they can be put on display around the room with the description in front of each one. The students should then have the opportunity to examine each other's Alien Beings to try to determine what planet they think each one comes from. This part of the activity can also be done as an oral presentation. (If the written descriptions are used during this part of the activity, students must be instructed to write them without naming their worlds.)

After the Alien Beings are reviewed, you might have the students talk about the difficulties they ran into designing life on other worlds and discuss with them the reasons our space probes have not found evidence of life elsewhere in the solar system.

Articles on the Solar System in National Geographic

Weaver, K.: "Mariner Unveils Venus and Mercury.'' (June 1975)
Weaver, K.: "First Explorers on the Moon.'' (Dec. 1969)
Schmitt, H: "Exploring Taurus-Littrow.'' (Sep. 1973)
Gore, R.: "Sifting for Life in the Sands of Mars.'' (Jan. 1977)
Gore, R.: "Voyager Views Jupiter.'' (Jan. 1980)
Gore, R.: "Saturn: Riddle of the Rings.'' (July 1981)
Weaver, K: "What You Didn't See in Kohoutek.'' (Aug 1974)

A good general book:

Miller, R. and Hartmann, W.: The Grand Tour: A Traveler's Guide to the Solar System. (Workman, 1981)

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