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Leftovers from Planet Building: Asteroids

Color image of kids' hands holding asteroid models.
Students make models of asteroids with clay. (Image Credit: NASA/Dawn Mission)

While it is difficult for students to observe asteroids directly, students of all ages can compare them to planets and to comets. Young students can compare scales of asteroids to that of the planets, and older students can compare composition, orbits and more!

There are also other activities that can be tied to this topic.

For activities related to impacts, visit the Collisions and Craters in the Solar System: Impacts! topic's Classroom section. For activities related to the formation of planets and asteroids, please visit the Birth of Worlds topic's Classroom section.

Be sure to submit photographs, artwork, music, or words of students enjoying these activities to Share Your Stories.


Grades K-4
The National Science Standards and Benchmarks present asteroids in grades older than K-4, but young students can make models of asteroids and compare their sizes to planets, or compare meteorites (pieces of asteroids) to rocks on Earth. If you discuss asteroid impacts in grades K-4, be alert to anxieties that younger children may have about potential asteroid impacts on Earth. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Modeling Asteroid Vesta in 3-D Students create a 3D model of Vesta using images, clay and other materials.
Vesta Flipbook Animators build cartoons by flipping through a series of images over time. Make a flipbook using Vesta images to help you picture the asteroid spinning on its axis in orbit through space!
Meteorite Investigators Children examine several rock samples to determine which are meteorites and which are not.
The Aster's Hoity Toity Belt "The Aster's Hoity-Toity Belt," a compelling tale set in the Great Carousel of the Skies, tells of two friends, the gentle giant Ceres and feisty Vesta, as they find their place in the skyberhood. In addition to a supplemental activity, the Aster's story is available as a booklet handout, a story with space for imaginative illustrations and a version with learning notations.

Grades 5-8
There are a variety of activities about asteroids and meteorites for this age group, which support different skills ranging from literacy to scientific inquiry. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
The History and Discovery of Asteroids Learners will explore scientific discoveries and the technologies as a sequence of events that led eventually to the Dawn mission. This is a series of modules which incorporate strong literacy and mathematics components.
Exploring Meteorite Mysteries Meteorites are pieces of asteroids that have fallen to Earth; they hold clues to the formation of our solar system. This set of activities investigates meteorite features, characteristics, their connection to asteroids, and the keys they hold to the formation of the planets. These activities are primarily hands-on modeling activities.
Space Math: So..How big is it? -- Asteroid Eros surface Students calculate the scale of an image of the surface of the asteroid Eros from the NEAR mission, and determine how big rocks and boulders are on its surface.
The Hunt for Micrometeorites Students collect and examine particles from the air using a microscope, and attempt to identify micrometeorites.

Grades 9-14
These students can begin to analyze the data from Earth satellites to study Earth systems, and from planetary missions to deduce water's presence or absence on various bodies. They can explore water's role as a solvent to its necessity for life. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Vegetable Light Curves In the activity, "Vegetable Light Curves," students will observe the surface of rotating potatoes to help them understand how astronomers can sometimes determine the shape of asteroids from variations in reflective brightness.
Virtual Microscope The Virtual Microscope is a free software download, providing access to a variety of advanced microscopes and specimens (including meteorites) requested by teachers. Virtual Lab completely emulates a scanning electron microscope and allows any user to zoom and focus into a variety of built-in microscopic samples.
Space Math: Close Encounters of the Asteroid Kind! On September 8, 2010 two small asteroids came within 80,000 km of Earth. Their small size of only 15 m made them very hard to see without telescopes pointed in exactly the right direction at the right time. In this problem, based on a NASA press release, students use a simple formula to calculate the brightness of these asteroids from their distance and size.
Space Math: Meteorite Compositions: A matter of density Astronomers collect meteorites to study the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. In this problem, students study the composition of a meteorite in terms of its density and mass, and the percentage of iron and olivine to determine the volumes occupied by each ingredient.
Summer Science Program If you have high school students interested in research experiences, you can share the Summer Science Program (SSP) with them. SSP is a residential enrichment program in which gifted high school students complete a challenging, hands-on research project in celestial mechanics. By day, students learn college-level astronomy, physics, calculus, and programming. By night, working in teams of three, they take a series of telescopic observations of a near-earth asteroid, and write software to convert those observations into a prediction of the asteroid's orbit around the sun. Stimulating guest speakers and field trips round out the curriculum.
DPS Slide Set: Asteroid Detected Before Impact This four-slide powerpoint by the Division of Planetary Science includes basic information for college-level introductory courses.
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Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014