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Planetary Geology: Impact Cratering
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Planetary Geology: Impact Cratering
Grade Level: 9-12
Lesson Time: 30-60 Minutes
Body: Venus, Earth, Mars
Mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey (Mars), Earth Science Missions (Earth), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Mars), Venus Express (Venus)

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Short Description: Geologists studying impact craters have combined measurements of craters on the Earth, moon, and planets with laboratory experiments to develop approximate relations between the depth of a crater (d), its diameter (CD), and the diameter of the impacting body that produced the crater (ID). To explore these relations:

  • Use the data for Arizona's Meteor Crater shown in the class handout to estimate d/CD.
  • With that result and the laboratory observation d/ID ~ 7 develop a relation between the diameter of a crater and the diameter of the impacting body.
  • Why does any single such relation for all craters serve as only an approximation?
  • Use the result to estimate the size of the impactor that produced Meteor Crater and compare it to the estimates for the dimensions given in the class handout.

Why We Chose This Lesson
This lesson was chosen for its quality and potential alignment to Next Generation Science Standards.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS1: Earth's Place in the Universe

Read more: NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas


  • 5-Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • 6-Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)

Read more: Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS

Crosscutting Concepts:

  • 3-Scale, proportion and quantity

Read more: NGSS Crosscutting Concepts

Credit: Northwestern University

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Last Updated: 6 Aug 2014