Planetary Scientist

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A career in planetary science would be a fascinating one these days. Fifty years ago we didn’t even know what any of the other planets in our solar system looked like up close. And just a few decades ago we weren’t sure that there were any planets outside our solar system. Now, thanks to advancing technology, every day we find out more and more about planets, both in and out of our solar system. This activity give the girls a taste of astronomy, geology, and planetary science, all in one!

Category: Developing Talents

Duration: 1 Session

Supplies:

  • 1 egg for each group of 2-3 girls (I highly recommend you hard boil them in case there is an accidental drop!)
  • 1 long, wide box or dresser drawer (you can use lots of smaller containers, like clothes gift boxes or 9 x 13 pans, but setup becomes more complicated). They should not be more than a foot high. If you have more than six girls you might consider doing more than one set up.
  • Plastic drop cloth or trash bag big enough to cover the inside of the box or drawer and drape over the sides
  • ten pound bag of flour or more – enough to cover the bottom of the box with two inches of flour.
  • can of cheap spray paint – any color but white
  • paper
  • writing utensils
  • rocks or marbles, no bigger than one inch, preferably a few different sizes.

Preparation:

  • Find a space outside the church building where a little flour mess won’t hurt anything.
  • (Optional) Search for a few recent news articles about planetary exploration. Hot topics in 2015 include extrasolar planets and the rovers on Mars.
  • (Optional) pictures or a map of Mercury and Mars.

Activity:

1. Share this quote from M Russell Ballard’s 1989 talk, “God’s Love for His Children.”

“Truly, the heavens and the earth and all things in them evidence the handiwork of God, their Creator…Astronauts viewing the earth from space have stated how incredibly beautiful it is and how alive it appears. United States Senator Jake Garn wrote of his experience in space: “It is impossible for me to describe the beauty of the earth. It is a breathtaking, awe-inspiring, spiritual experience to view the earth from space while traveling at twenty-five times the speed of sound. I could also look into the blackness of the vacuum of space and see billions of stars and galaxies millions of light-years away. The universe is so vast as to be impossible to comprehend. But I did comprehend the hand of God in all things. I felt his presence throughout my seven days in space. I know that God created this earth and the universe. I know that we are his children wherever we live on the earth, without regard to our nationality or the color of our skin. Most important, I know that God lives and is the Creator of us all” (letter to M. Russell Ballard, 3 March 1988).”

2. Talk about how planetary scientists study the planets, one of Heavenly Fathers creations. Discuss recent events in planetary science.

3. Tell the girls you are going to pretend to be a planetary scientist in two experiments. First, give each small group an egg and tell them that is is a planet. Have them name their planet.

4. Have them use their pen or pencil to draw a circle the size of a quarter somewhere on the “planet.” Tell them that this is the part of the planet they are studying and are going to “map” all of the features in the area. They will find mountains, valleys, maybe even rivers and volcanoes if they use their imagination! When they look at the surface of an egg very closely they will notice that the shell is not a smooth surface, but actually has bumps and lines on it. This is like our planet and many other planets – they look like smooth spheres from far away but when we look closely, we can see that they have many features.

5. Have each group draw a “map” of their region, then if they have time, come up with names for the features they see. Some terms they might use are crater, mountain, hill, valley, river, plateau, ridge, ocean, island, peninsula, volcano, etc.

6. After about ten minutes or if everyone is finished sooner, have each group tell the other groups about their map. Show them some pictures of Mars and explained that its features were mapped in a similar manner, with many different scientists over many years working together.

7. Examine a picture of Mercury and ask the girls if they know what craters are. Talk about how craters are formed. Tell them you are going to go outside to do an experiment on how craters are formed.

8. Once outside, put the box on the ground, cover with a drop cloth, and pour about two inches of flour in the box. Have the girls stand back while you spray paint the top of the flour enough to see a different color on the entire surface.

9. Drop one rock into the flour and observe the pattern that is created. Identify some features of the crater using this chart (not all features can be found on every crater):

10. Point out that the white flour underneath the surface found its way on top of the spray painted surface. So, planetary scientists can study the ejecta of a crater to determine what the inside of a planet is made of.

11. Explain that the length, direction, and amount of ejecta rays can tell scientists a lot about the meteor that hit the planet.

12. Retrieve the rock, and then have the girls try making some craters at different angles with a rock. Tell them they should keep the rock size, throwing distance, and throwing force the same to make sure that you’re ONLY testing angle and not something else too by accident (in science experiments, having only one “variable” is important). Depending on the number of girls and the size of your box, this part might be a guided experiment (one rock at a time), or you can give them 2-3 minutes to make craters as many times as they want at different angles. When the surface is covered in craters, simply retrieve any rocks left in the flour, smooth it out, and spray paint again.

13. Discuss what they found out about their experiments throwing rocks at different angles. How does the ejecta look different with steeper or shallower angles?

14. Next, following the same steps in 12 and 13, experiment with different sizes of “meteorites” to see what impact the rock size has on crater size and ejecta size. And, for one last experiment, see what difference throwing force makes, making sure to only test that one variable at a time.

15. Clean up! Encourage the girls to try some more experimenting at home with their family.

More Ideas:

  • If you have a university nearby, visit the planetary science, geology, or astronomy department.
  • Research if there are any craters nearby for a field trip.
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