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"Although some meteors streak through the sky every day and night, meteor activity greatly intensifies ten times during the year. Those periods are known as "meteor showers" and occur when the Earth passes through the orbit of a comet or the debris left behind by a comet."
~ Science Fact Finder

To help students understand the causes and effects of meteors and meteor showers, we've created three scavenger hunts -- for elementary, middle, and high school students. Students simply read the questions and then go to the suggested Web site to locate the answers. Each scavenger hunt also includes several cross-curricular activities that can be used to extend the lesson.

To get started, choose one of the hunts below:

Then sit back and enjoy the show!

LEONID SCAVENGER HUNT I

Type in each URL below and follow the directions to navigate the site and answer the questions. Scavenger Hunt I's Answer Key appears at the end of this document.

Starchild Web site at http://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov.

   1. What is a comet?
   2. Many meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites come from comets. What is the difference between a meteoroid, a meteor, and a meteorite?
   3. What is a meteor shower?
   4. The Leonids are very famous meteor showers. In what month do they occur?

About the Leonids at http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=37812

   5. How did the Leonid Meteor showers get their name?
   6. Which moves faster, a Leonid meteor or a spacecraft?
   7. What comet produces the Leonid showers?
   8. When can you see the next Leonid showers?

Additional Meteor Activities for Grades K-4

  • Letters of the Alphabet. Make a Space Alphabet Book.

  • Astronomy -- Writing. Encourage students to watch a meteor shower live or on a webcast and then write a story or journal entry about the event.

  • Science. On the Starchild Web site, click Solar System (Level 1) page and try some Solar System Activities.

  • Vocabulary -- Research. Provide students with a list of space-related terms and ask them to find the words in the Starchild Glossary. Older students might be provided with a definition and asked to find the word or term it defines. Students then can create their own space glossaries.

  • Art -- Science. Provide each student with a diagram of the solar system, showing each planet's orbit -- but not the planet. Then ask students to use Solar System Coloring Pages to create models of the solar system. To find the coloring pages, start at NASA. Have students color the planets, cut them out, and paste them in the correct location in the solar system.

  • Science. Invite students to visit The Space Place, and appear on The Space Place Quiz Show.

  • Games. Invite students to do other spacey things at The Space Place.

LEONID SCAVENGER HUNT II

Type in the URLs below and explore the sites to answer the questions. Scavenger Hunt II's Answer Key appears at the end of this document.

Astronomy for Kids at http://www.frontiernet.net/~kidpower/astronomy.html
About the Leonids at http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=37812

  1. Why are comets interesting to astronomers? Give at least 3 reasons.

  2. What are the 3 main parts of a comet?

  3. Where do most meteors come from?

  4. What makes meteors visible in space?

  5. What causes meteor showers? What is a meteor storm?

  6. What comet produces the Leonids? How long does the comet take to make a single orbit?

  7. What is a comet's radiant? Where is the Leonids' radiant located?

  8. When can you see the next Leonid showers?

Additional Activities for Grades 5-8

  • Communication. Ask students to read Meteors and the Native Americans and create a pictograph of their lives.

  • Vocabulary -- Research. Provide students with a list of space-related terms and ask them to find the words in the Glossary on the site above. Or provide students with a definition and ask them to find the word or term it defines.

  • History. Ask students to read the history of the Leonids on the above site and create a timeline of the showers, noting significant events and discoveries.

  • Art. Invite students to invent their own constellations and place stars to represent them.

  • Games. Invite students to go to The Space Place and complete some of the activities there.

  • Art. Encourage students to visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and build a model spacecraft.

  • More Math. Tell students that, in a normal year, they could expect to see about 15 meteors per hour in the Leonid showers. This year astronomers say as many as 150,000 meteors per hour might be seen. Ask them to determine the percentage of the increase.

LEONID SCAVENGER HUNT III

Type the URL and explore the site to answer the questions. Scavenger Hunt III's Answer Key appears at the end of this document.

Leonid MAC at http://leonid.arc.nasa.gov/meteor.html

  1. What are comets?

  2. What causes meteors to occur?

  3. What is the difference between a meteor and a meteoroid?

  4. What comet do the Leonid meteors come from and what is the estimated diameter of that comet's nucleus?

  5. What is the radiant of a meteor stream? Where is the radiant of the Leonid showers located?

  6. What colors are meteors? What causes the colors?

  7. What are meteor outbursts? Why do they occur?

  8. How often do Leonid meteor streams and outbursts occur? When did the last one occur? When will the next one occur?

Additional Activities for Grades 9-12

  • Astronomy. Ask students to watch a meteor shower and record and report the date and time of their observations; what the conditions were; and what they observed.

  • Physics. Explain to students that Leonid meteoroids can travel at speeds up to 71 kilometers per second -- much faster than typical meteors. Ask them to calculate how long it would take a Leonid meteor to travel from Los Angeles to New York. Then ask them to calculate the varying impact meteors traveling at different speeds have when they collide with objects in space.

  • History. Encourage students to visit The American Meteor Society and create a graph showing the relative intensity of showers of the past decade.

  • Games. Invite students to complete the Asteroids, Comets, and Meteors Word Search.

ANSWER KEYS

Scavenger Hunt I Answer Key

  1. A comet is a big ball of dirty ice and snow in outer space.
  2. A meteoroid is a piece of stony or metallic material that travels in space. A meteor is meteoroid that enters Earth's atmosphere and burns up. A meteorite is a meteor that doesn't burn up before hitting Earth.
  3. A meteor shower happens when Earth travels through a stream of meteoroids that have broken off a comet.
  4. The Leonid meteor shower occurs in November. These meteors are called the Leonids because they seem to radiate from the constellation Leo.
  5. A Leonid meteor travels at a speed of 158,000 miles per hour (mph). An orbiting spacecraft travels at a speed of 20,000 mph.
  6. The Leonids' parent comet is named Tempel-Tuttle.
  7. The Leonids will be most visible on November 17 and 18, 1998.
Scavenger Hunt II Answer Key

  1. Comets are unpredictable. Their composition seems to represent the original makeup of the vast nebula that ultimately condensed to form the sun and planets. Many astronomers believe early collisions between Earth and comets brought the vast amounts of water that make up Earth's oceans. It's thrilling to watch a comet and know it may have last traveled through Earth's skies hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years ago.
  2. A comet's 3 main parts are the nucleus, the coma, and the tail.
  3. Most meteors come from comets.
  4. Meteors become visible as a result of friction caused by air molecules slamming against the surface of the high-velocity particle. The friction typically causes meteors to glow blue or white.
  5. A meteor shower occurs when Earth's orbit intersects the orbit of a meteor stream. A meteor storm occurs when Earth encounters closely grouped meteors within a meteor stream.
  6. The Leonids' parent comet is Tempel-Tuttle. The comet travels in an elliptical orbit with a period of about 33 years.
  7. A comet's radiant is the point from which it appears to emanate. The Leonids radiant is within the constellation Leo.
  8. Every November 17 Earth crosses the orbit of comet Tempel-Tuttle and the Leonids become visible. Astronomers predict in 1998 that the meteor shower will be strongest during the morning hours for observers in Asia, while in 1999 it will be best seen by observers in Asia and Europe.
Scavenger Hunt III Answer Key
  1. Comets are mountains of ice and dust.
  2. When comets approach the Sun, the ices evaporate and the dust particles are ejected into orbit in geyser-like fountains.
  3. Meteors are streaks of light that appear in the sky when a dust particle from space evaporates high in the Earth's atmosphere. The light phenomenon in the atmosphere is called a meteor, while the dust particle is called a meteoroid.
  4. The Leonid meteors originate in comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. The estimated diameter of its nucleus is 3.6 kilometers.
  5. The radiant of the Leonids is in the constellation Leo. The radiant is a perspective effect. All particles move in about the same orbit. An observer in the middle of the stream sees the meteors fall left and right, above and behind him, however they all seem to radiate from a certain point in the sky. That point is called the radiant.
  6. The color of a meteor is an indication of its composition and the excitation temperature: sodium atoms give an orange-yellow light, iron atoms a yellow light, magnesium a blue-green light, calcium atoms may add a violet hue and silicon atoms give a red light.
  7. Meteor streams occur when Earth passes through a trail of ice and dust thrown off by a comet. Meteor outbursts are meteor streams with levels of activity significantly above normal. Meteor outbursts occur when Earth travels through relatively fresh debris--meteors that have been recently discharged from the comet.
  8. Leonid meteor streams occur every year. Leonid meteor outbursts occur about every 33 years. The last Leonid outburst occurred in 1966. The next will occur on November 17.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

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Updated 06/08/2010

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