Impact craters produced by comets, asteroids, and meteoroids are fascinating. Scientists thought that Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona was a volcanic crater until studies in the 1960s revealed that it was caused by an extraterrestrial impact. The death of the dinosaurs was thought to be due to climate change until the discovery of the Chicxulub crater in 1978. The impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994 was the first time an impact was directly observed. They are fascinating to students and are a natural extension to many of your middle school science topics.
How do impact lessons address the NGSS?
- Asteroids, meteoroids and comets are all fascinating for students and studying them addresses NGSS MS-ESS1-3 Earth’s Place in the Universe. In this standard, students are expected to be able to classify solar system objects based on their features, compositions and locations within the solar system.
- A unit on asteroids, meteoroids and comets can be used to address the science and engineering practices of asking questions, developing and using models, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, constructing an explanation, and engaging in an argument stemming from evidence.
- Studying asteroids, meteoroids and comets can also be linked to the cross cutting concepts of cause and effect, systems and system models, stability and change, and scale proportion and quantity.
When to teach impacts?
The science of asteroids, meteoroids and comets can be learned in nearly any earth science unit. Asteroids, meteoroids and comets fit naturally into your solar system and astronomy unit – How are they formed? How are they observed? How are their orbits calculated?
When you’re teaching the rock cycle, include the differences between earth rocks and space rocks. When you’re teaching geologic time, include impact driven mass extinctions. When you teach relative and absolute dating, include overlapping craters on the Moon.
Impact activities for middle school classrooms
- What factors affect craters? Use this hands on activity to have students examine how the mass, diameter and velocity of an asteroid affect the size of the crater that is produced.
- Impact slide show – Use these 13 Interactive Google slides to allow students to drag and drop correct answers instead of OR in addition to taking notes. This slide show includes an explanation of what killed the dinosaurs and the differences between comets, asteroids, meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites. Students will also learn about Barringer Crater, Tunguska and Chelyabinsk.
- Virtual Field trip – I like to use this virtual field trip to Meteor Crater to give students a little “awe” with regard to meteor impact sites. Great for independent work also.
- Is it a Meteorite? – This intense hands on activity is for the more advanced students who are ready to use physical and chemical properties to determine if a rock is a an earth rock or a meteorite.
Where can you buy meteorites?
Hands on activities in which students can observe meteorites are a perennial favorite. Higher level students can conduct basic observational experiments or more advanced chemistry experiments to determine if a sample of rock is a meteorite or an earth rock.
The range of prices for a meteorite varies. Larger meteorites are more expensive. Witnessed falls are more expensive. Rarer meteorites are more expensive. But you can still purchase small pieces of common meteorites for about the same cost as a sample of earth rocks.
Here are some websites to start your search: