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Moons and Rings: Our Favorite Things

Students of all ages may study different aspects of lunar phases, beginning with simple observations and identifying patterns at the elementary level, up to examining the gravitational relationship between phases and tides at upper middle school and high school levels. The motions of the moons, and our own Moon, are particularly appropriate for middle school. Moons can also be useful in comparisons to Earth processes such as volcanism, erosion, and cratering.

Take part in the annual observing event, International Observe the Moon Night. Be sure to submit photographs, artwork, music, or words of students enjoying these activities to Share Your Stories.


Grades K-4
For these grades, the Moon is often explored through observation. Students discover that the Moon changes shape, and that these changes are a predictable cycle. Educational research indicates that most students at this age do not yet have the spatial ability to conceptualize the causes of lunar phases, so activities modeling why the Moon has phases may be inappropriate. Students can also examine and model the features of the Moon and of Saturn's rings. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Observing the Moon Students observe the Moon's changing appearance and features.
How to Make a Saturn Model After creating a model of Saturn using discarded CD's, students contemplate Saturn's rings using the fact sheet Why Does Saturn Have Rings?
Oreo Moon Phases Students model the order and appearance of the phases of the Moon using cookies and frosting.
Reading, Writing and Rings This learning resource uses Saturn as a launching point for language arts activities, enhancing basic communication skills through scientific exploration and the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn.

Grades 5-8
Students in this age group can use their observations and models to determine that the Moon's orbit around the Earth causes the amount of the illuminated Moon we observe from Earth to vary, creating the phases. Students may have a variety of misconceptions; activities will need to be chosen carefully to avoid unintentionally supporting misconceptions (such as the incorrect belief that shadows cause phases or that the Moon's rotation causes phases, etc.)

Students can also model the size and distance of moons and rings, and investigate how we study these different bodies. Students can compare lunar features to other planetary bodies, and investigate how different features form. (See activities within the topics of Volcanism and Impacts). (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
A Grapefruit Saturn Students will construct a scale model of Saturn; use it to explain a Voyager image of Saturn's shadow on its rings; and, by trial and error, discover that light moves through space in straight lines.
Using Spectral Data to Explore Saturn and Titan Students compare known elemental spectra with spectra of Titan and Saturn's rings from a spectrometer aboard the NASA Cassini spacecraft. They identify the elements visible in the planetary and lunar spectra.
Earth-Moon Activity Students work in pairs using different-sized spherical objects to represent Earth and the Moon. They use the diameter of the objects to establish this scale.
In the Footsteps of Galileo: Observing the Moons of Jupiter In this activity, students learn about the scientific method and do a simplified version of Galileo's pioneering observations of Jupiter's moons.
Exploring Lunar Phases with a Daytime Moon This activity creates a model with the real Moon and Sun in the sky to help participants discover the real reason for the lunar phases.
Golfball Phases and Eclipses Students explore the dynamics of lunar phases to develop an understanding of the relative positions of our Moon, Earth, and Sun that cause the phases of the Moon as viewed from Earth. Using a golf ball glowing under the ultraviolet light of a "blacklight" makes it easier to see the actual phase of the Moon.
Why Do Eclipses Happen? Using simple materials, participants create 3D models of the Earth, Moon and Sun and demonstrate solar and lunar eclipses.
The Oldest Lunar Rocks A list of the ages of the oldest lunar rock samples is grouped into families with about the same average ages to estimate the age of the lunar mare.
Methane Lakes on Titan Students use a recent Cassini radar image of the surface of Titan to estimate how much methane is present in the lakes that fill the image, and compare the volume to that of the fresh water lake, Lake Tahoe.

Grades 9-14
Students in these grades can model and measure the Moon's rotation, and compare it to other moons and planets. They can use data to investigate the features and geological history of the Moon and other satellites in our solar system. Most of these activities can also be done by middle school students with a thorough understanding of the Moon's and phases, but should not be done if these students do not already understand these concepts in order to prevent confusion. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Does the Moon Rotate? Students make a three-dimensional model of the Earth and Moon. Using the sun's light, they discover that the Moon does rotate in the same amount of time it takes to make one orbit.
Kinesthetic Lunar Rotation/ Revolution This kinesthetic activity is designed to give participants a first hand look at the movement of the Moon.
Quarter Earth and Penny Moon The students use a penny and a quarter to model the Moon's rotation on its axis and revolution around the Earth, and demonstrate that the Moon keeps the same face toward the Earth.
The Moons of Jupiter Students investigate how the density of Jupiter's moons is related to their diameter and their distance from Jupiter.
Observing Jupiter's Moons Students conduct a series of inquiries about the position and motion of Jupiter's moons using prescribed Internet simulations.
Seeing the Moon: Using Light to Investigate the Moon Educator Activities Through the hands-on inquiry based activities, students experiment with light and color, collect and analyze authentic data from rock samples using a reflectance spectrometer, map the rock types of the Moon, and develop theories of the Moon's history.
DPS Slide Set: A Sunlit Lake on Titan This four-slide powerpoint by the Division of Planetary Science includes basic information for college-level introductory courses.
DPS Slide Set: One Moon (Phoebe) Coats its Neighbor (Iapetus) in Dust This four-slide powerpoint by the Division of Planetary Science includes basic information for college-level introductory courses.
DPS Slide Set: Water Found on the Moon 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