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Lesson Title: Danger - Space Debris
May 11, 2012

Unit: Physical Science - Forces

Grade Levels: 4-6

Connection To Curriculum: Science, Mathematics and Technology

Teacher Prep Time: 45 minutes

Lesson Time Needed: 4 hours

Complexity Moderate

Keywords: Newton's Laws of Motion, force, friction, energy, momentum


Two plastic rulers with center groove (30 cm long) or similar items for tracking the marbles, such as grooved wooden molding
Eight identical marbles
Two identical books or boards to use as ramp supports
Plastic (milkshake-size)
Tissue paper, notebook paper, handkerchiefs, rubber bands, napkins ,aluminum foil, wax paper, plastic wrap, etc.
Impact Resistance Test Stand (from Teacher Tech Brief )
One packet unflavored gelatin
Hot water
Two clear plastic cups
A spoon
A plastic straw
Steel pellets (available at sporting goods stores)
Safety goggles for you and all students
Aerogel Fact Sheet

This lesson connects a series of activities to examine the physics and dangers of natural and man-made debris traveling through space.

Students will:
• Explore the law of conservation of momentum using colliding marbles.
• Investigate how velocity and kinetic energy affect the penetration of a speeding object into a substance.
• Use gelatin to demonstrate how aerogel was utilized by the Stardust mission to capture comet material without damaging it.

First page of Danger: Space Debris

Lesson Guide
Space Debris Lesson
[116KB PDF file]



Lesson Activities and Sequence
The "Danger: Space Debris" activities needed for this lesson may be found at the websites listed with each activity outlined below:

  1. Collisions
    Students will be observing colliding marbles, which demonstrate the law of conservation of momentum. The momentum of a moving object is the product of its mass and its velocity (M = mv). If all of the marbles are identical in mass and size, a moving marble will transfer its momentum to a stationary marble when they collide. (See page 49 of guide.)
    Keywords: momentum, mass, velocity

  2. Potato Astronaut - Exploration Brief: Micrometeoroids and Space Debris
    Part 1: Students will investigate the relationship between velocity and penetration depth when a potato is struck with a plastic straw.
    Part 2: Challenge the students to design a way to protect the potato from damage caused by impacts using just the materials they brought to the classroom.
    Keywords: micrometeroids, space debris, movement

  3. Aerogel-lo - Technology For Studying Comets: Part 3 Aerogel
    This activity offers a simple approach for "experiencing" aerogel. Aerogel is an amazing feat of technology that was used by the STARDUST spacecraft to capture high-velocity interstellar dust and particles from the coma of comet Wild 2. This demonstration uses gelatin and pellets to show how STARDUST's aerogel collector captured comet particles. The gelatin is referred to as "aerogel-lo." (Aerogel fact sheet at bottom.)
    Keywords: comet, collection methods

National Standards:

National Science Education Standards, NSTA
Science as Inquiry
• Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry.
• Understandings about scientific inquiry.

Physical Science
• Properties and changes of properties in matter.
• Motions and forces.
• Transfer of energy.
• Interactions of energy and matter.

Earth and Space Science
• Earth in the solar system.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
• Risks and benefits.
• Natural and human-induced hazards.

History and Nature of Science
• Science as a human endeavor.
• Nature of science.
• History of science.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, NCTM
Operations and Algebraic Thinking
• Generate and analyze patterns.

Measurement and data
• Represent and interpret data.


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