Reflection: Relevance Classroom Comet - Section 3: Student Activity

 

Kids naturally love learning about astronomy, but there are very few examples that the kids are able to touch and experience. This has to due with the dilemma that school is in session during daylight hours and stars and other astronomical objects are best seen at night. This reduces astronomy to showing pictures and lecturing to the kids about what the objects are and what can be seen at night. Unfortunately due to artificial lighting, and home heating and air conditioning systems keep us inside, very few kids look up at the night sky with enough frequency to learn observational astronomy. Along with the fact that comets are rarely seen with any predictable frequency makes this a worthwhile activity.

This lesson provides the students with an conceptual understanding of what a comet is and what it is made of. Comets are chunks of dirty ice that hail from the depths of our Outer Solar System and provide us with a window for understanding the chemical and physical composition of our early Solar System. It is believed that comets in the Kuiper Belt formed at the earliest moments of our Solar System. By studying comets we are essentially looking back in time.

A huge misconception that I encounter is that students think that the tail of a comet always points to the rear because that's how a comet would behave in an atmosphere. In the vacuum of space a comet's tail will always point away from the Sun, so when the comet is leaving the Sun and traveling out into the Outer Solar System the tail points forward. They are essential melting snowballs as they get closer to the Sun. I would encourage you to perform this activity with your students in order to provide a real example that they will probably never see in their life time.

  Real life example for studying astronomy
  Relevance: Real life example for studying astronomy
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Classroom Comet

Unit 11: Solar System
Lesson 4 of 8

Objective: Students will be able to understand the physical and chemical composition of a comet through direct observation of a simulated classroom comet.

Big Idea: Use home kitchen ingredients to build a comet!

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hale bopp comet
 
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