GALILEO SSI Education Module
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This module includes all the necessary background information on the topic of impact cratering as well as activities designed to introduce important concepts related to impact crater formation and subsequent modification. Several sections also include a link called Teacher Feature, a teacher designed section overview with ready-made worksheets for review, wrap-up, or concept activities. The teacher feature also has suggestions for modifying the activity for other grade levels.
Goals: Use images of the planets to demonstrate
This series of activities will describe how scientists study the surfaces of our own and other planets. First, we will discuss how to locate features on the surface of a spherical planet. Then, we'll talk about cratering, one of the most important surface processes in the solar system. Analysis of craters on the surfaces of planets can help scientists estimate how old the surface is, what its composition is, and what agents of change are important on that body. We'll discuss how craters are made, and what can remove them from the surface of a planet. Then, we'll look in detail at some of the planets in the solar system, and what we can tell about the history of a planet by examining its craters. Finally, we'll apply our understanding of the inner solar system to try to interpret some of the new images from the Galileo spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter.
Direct student attention to various planet surface features
Identify student's knowledge as it relates to Earth's features
Provide overview of how knowledge is collected
Lesson Format: Teacher lecture, Group work, Discussion
Introduction: Have each student list at least 5 surface features in his/her state
Class Activity: Here, There, & Everywhere?
Type: Group discussion
Materials Needed: Reference materials appropriate to age (State maps)
Let volunteers share state features orally. Be sure students only include geological surface features (i.e. not forests).
List on board or have several ready on cards.
Let tables select a feature & do a fast fact find on the discovery (i.e. who found, year, etc.) using references.
Let students share info.
Extend discussion on how distant features are discovered (explorers, observations, etc.).
Extend to moon, planets
Relate discussion to how we learn about processes forming the features (theory, experiment, comparisons, simulations)
Put key points on overhead (paragraph one)
Give overview of upcoming activities (paragraph two)
Have students summarize various surface features discussed, how info. was attained, and how we learn about other planetary features.
Let students answer orally or record in log format.
Other Activities, Misc. Information, etc.:
Given state maps and blank state outline, have students identify, draw, & label surface features
Possibly include addition of longitude/latitude link as intro. to next lesson
Research & report on the 7 Natural Wonders of the world. Illustrate them as postcards.
Research earliest observations/stories of the planets
Latitude represents how far north or south of the equator a point is. The latitude of a point is the number of degrees in an angle made by the equator, the center of the Earth, and the point. The latitude of Tucson [or insert your city here], for example, is 32 degrees north, meaning that Tucson is 32 degrees north of the equator. The latitude of points on the equator is 0 degrees (north or south).
While with latitude, the obvious place on Earth from which to measure north or south is the equator, there is no similarly obvious choice from which to measure east or west. An imaginary line passing through Greenwich, England was arbitrarily defined, and longitude represents how far east or west a point is from this line. So Tucson, at longitude 111 degrees W, is therefore 111 degrees west of Greenwich, England.
The origin of a coordinate system is the starting point for measurements. The origin for the latitude-longitude coordinate system on Earth is where the equator and the line through Greenwich, England, meet, at zero degrees latitude, zero degrees longitude.
Scientific context: A latitude-longitude system is fundamental for the reliable location of surface features. With an origin, any place on a planet can be located with only two numbers: how many degrees north or south of the origin, and how many degrees east or west of the origin. The hard part is choosing an origin. On other planets, the zero of longitude is chosen once the surface of the planet has been mapped in enough detail to pick one. On some planets, the origin is defined as the point on the equator known as the "sub-Earth" point, which is the point on the surface that faces the Earth at the time when the two planets are closest in their orbits. On other planets, the choice is much more arbitrary. The most important criterion is that the origin must be a point that is easy for everyone to find, whether it's the center of a crater or some other obvious permanent geologic feature.
Student Objectives: Review of latitude/longitude
Background Information: Planetary Surfaces Module Section I.: Latitude / Longitude
Lesson Format: Map Reading and Discussion
Using ABC/123 grid, have students draw their own maps, listing 5 features by name on cross lines.
You may need to give a list of formations from which to choose: mountains, plateaus, bodies of water by name, canyons, vocanoes, etc.
Class Activity: Find the Feature
Type: Mapping skills
Maps with longitude/latitude divisions appropriate for age (globe & world maps)
Using ABC/123 grid maps from intro. activity, have students exchange and give locations for each feature, using the grid. Discuss.
Relate to Earth's coordinate system
Have students locate cities by their longitude & latitude
Continue with interpretation questions as given using globe if possible
Let students suggest ways to decide a point of origin on planets
Latitude, longitude, coordinate systems & point of origin related to other planetary bodies
Mapping test identifying locations or identifying coordinates
Summary discussion with students defining key words or summarizing key ideas
Other Activities, Misc. Information, etc.:
Give coordinates, that when connected in order, spell a word (i.e. sub-Earth)
A surface which is completely covered with craters is called saturated. New craters on a saturated surface tend to cover older craters, so once a surface becomes saturated with craters, the number of craters remains approximately the same. Saturated surfaces are very old. Only geologically inactive planetary bodies can become saturated, since on an active planet such as the Earth, craters are quickly erased by agents of change such as tectonics, volcanism, and erosion. Thus a saturated surface such as the Moon's is a sign that the Moon is no longer geologically active, and regions with a lower crater density are younger than those with a higher crater density. The study of craters can provide much information about the history of planetary bodies in our solar system.
This section will discuss in greater detail how craters are made, how they are removed, and what can be learned from images of craters on the Earth and on other planets.
Impact craters are made when an object or bolide impacts the surface of a planet or satellite. A bolide is any falling body such as a comet or meteorite. Many hands on impact simulation activities are available, and all involve dropping a series of bolides, with different masses, onto a simulated planetary surface. The planetary surface can be dry, for example made out of flour with a dusting of cocoa powder, or wet, such as a muddy composite of dirt or sand.
[A variety of cratering exercises are available. See Craters! ]
Components of Activity:
Atmosphere affects whether small craters exist.
The composition of a planetary body and various factors relating to an impact have a strong effect on the appearance of craters on the surface of a planet. Even more important, however, are the many different agents of change which serve to either remove craters from the surface of a planet, or preserve them, over geologic time.
TEACHER FEATURE: Warm-up Activity
Preselected images:(Mercury, Mercury II, Venus, Earth, Moon, Mars)
little (some tectonics)
little (some volcanism)
surface, many areas saturated
(tectonics, large volcanoes, some wind, maybe water?)
areas saturated, some craters removed by volcanism, wind, dust (no tiny craters)
(volcanoes, maybe tectonics, little weathering)
craters, (atmos. keeps out many), pristine condition
(tectonics, volcanoes, weathering - water, wind)
few craters, most heavily modified by weathering
Scientific context: The most important factor in predicting how the surface of a planet will look is the degree of geologic activity, or how effective various agents of change are. The appearance of craters on the surfaces of the terrestrial planets is an indication of how geologically active the planets are. Since bolides impact all bodies in the solar system, a lack of craters must be explained by past or current geologic activity. There are many possible agents of change which could be responsible. Craters can be removed by having other craters form over them, as on a saturated surface. They can have lava flows bury them, or tectonic activity fracture them. They can be filled in by dust, blown away by wind, or washed away by water. They can even be obscured by vegetation. Using this indicator, we can rank the planets from old, inactive bodies to young, geologically active worlds.
Oldest on this scale are bodies like Mercury and the Moon. These are relatively small objects, with old, heavily cratered surfaces and little evidence of subsequent activity which could have covered or partially obscured their craters. Some of the large craters on the Moon, however, are filled in with lava flows, evidence that the Moon was once active. Mercury and the Moon are sometimes called "dead" bodies, because there is no evidence of current geologic activity.
The in-between cases are Mars and Venus. Mars has some craters on its surface, but also has other features like volcanoes and giant rift valleys, evidence that the planet was once much more active than it is today. Some craters on the surface seem to have been filled in with dust or eroded away, evidence that while Mars' thin atmosphere is not very efficient, it does affect surface features. There are relatively few craters on the surface of Venus, and most seem to be preserved in pristine condition. There is also evidence of volcanism and tectonic activity. Scientists have interpreted surface images as indicating that Venus underwent a period of great geologic activity about 500 million years ago, which removed all older craters. Since then, however, the planet has been relatively inactive, meaning that any craters that have accumulated in the last 500 million years have been preserved in relatively pristine form.
The other extreme is the Earth, which is a large, very active planet with very few craters preserved on its surface (Meteor crater, in Northern AZ, is one of the best-preserved.). Tectonics and volcanism are important processes on Earth, but even more important are erosional processes caused by wind and water. Earth is the only body with liquid surface water, which quickly washes away most craters. It is no accident that one of the most well-preserved craters on Earth is in a desert!
Much can be determined about the state of geologic activity on a planet merely by examining craters and other features on its surface. A heavily cratered surface (Mercury, Moon) indicates that the planet is not currently active, and has not been active for (perhaps) billions of years. A non-saturated surface is an indicator of past (Mars, Venus) or current (Earth) geologic or atmospheric activity of some sort. Whatever the crater removal process, it is important to understand that if the surface of a planet is not covered with craters, there must be a reason!
TEACHER FEATURE: Wrap-up Activity
Identify factors that contribute to crater appearance on each of the terrestrial planets.
Identify agents of change.
Use Crater Acrostic to review lab terms from previous lesson
Solution for crater acrostic:
mystery word = atmosphere
Other Activities, Misc. Information, etc.:
- have students draw a cratered surface or various surfaces based on atmospheric densities. Switch and let observer determine atmospheric condition.
- teacher can prepare drawings noted above for younger children to match with atmospheres
Enter the letters of the appropriate word in the spaces provided in the clue section. When all the clue words are done, enter the indicated letter from each clue in the numbered space in the mystery word.
____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ ____
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1. An ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ is an object that strikes a surface.
2. The object being struck is called the ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___. [1st letter]
3. The measure of the amount of matter in an object is its ___ ___ ___ ___.
4. Earth's ___ ___ ___ ___ is a celestial object that is saturated with craters.
5. One quality of an impactor is its ___ ___ ___ ___ .[1st letter]
6. The ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ of impactors and
targets affect crater appearance. [4th letter]
7/8. In experiments ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ is used to simulate various
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ of impactors. [1st letter, 3rd letter]
9. Only planets and moons with ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ can have
craters. [3rd letter]
10. Material spewed from the impact is called ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___. [1st
Using previous lessons, the student will apply the information to predict the surfaces of various unknown bodies
Review information from previous crater formation, modification and removal activities. Have students summarize point of knowledge.
"Lunar Line Up" (predict surface)
Lunar Line-up Worksheet
Hand out worksheet and go over directions with class
Have students justify their predictions
Moon 1: presence of atmosphere may limit number of small craters, probably has moderate number of craters (not saturated because of geologic activity, volcanoes and wind erosion), some craters may be filled in by lava as well as sand/dust carried by wind; crater edges may be weathered by wind; ice can be interpreted as part of the composition of the surface - lower strength means shallower craters, or may indicate seasonal surface water (erosion)
Moon 2: thick atmosphere probably limited number of craters, especially small ones (not saturated due to atmosphere); craters should be fairly pristine due to lack of geologic activity and weathering agent (no wind, water or ice)
Moon 3: moderate atmosphere probably limited number of small craters (not saturated due to atmosphere and agents of change present); extensive geologic activity in form of volcanoes and erosion (wind and lots of water) fills and erodes and maybe erases craters Bonus Question: some ideas may include - proximity to asteroid belt (lots of impactors), life-form modification, mass of moon (extremes of gravity, landslides)
Collect and check or use as discussion activity
Other Activities, Misc. Information, etc.:
- students may be allowed to use the chars constructed earlier
- students may work in groups, then present at the end of the period in a "science symposium"
- pictures may be drawn to illustrate conclusions
-have students defend others answers based on knowledge from previous lessons
Data Set 1 Data Set 2 Data Set 3 composition rocky rocky rocky atmosphere thin with wind thick no wind moderate some wind water some ice no water/no ice lots water volcanoes some no lots
Open-Ended Bonus Question:
What other conditions might affect cratering on these bodies?
The four largest satellites of Jupiter are referred to as the Galilean satellites, since they were first discovered by Galileo in 1610. These satellites are too small and too far from the Earth to study their surfaces in detail. The surfaces of Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto were first imaged at high resolution by the Voyager spacecraft in 1979 and 1980, and are being observed in greater detail by the Galileo spacecraft which will be in orbit around Jupiter until December of 1997. Using the techniques discussed in the previous section, we can examine geologic processes important on these bodies, and determine the relative ages of their surfaces. This technique of comparing newly-explored worlds to those with which we are more familiar is a common one in science.
It has heavily cratered regions, regions with fewer craters which also have cracks and grooves (implying tectonic activity), and regions which appear to have experienced resurfacing (like our Moon?).
Does this mean that some areas were recently active and some were not?
Develop observation skills
Compare, contrast and draw conclusions based on geologic interpretation
The four largest satellites of Jupiter are referred to as the Galilean satellites, since they were first discovered by Galileo in 1610. These satellites are too small and too far from the Earth to study their surfaces in detail. The surfaces of Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto were first imaged at high resolution by the Voyager spacecraft in 1979 and 1980, and are being observed in greater detail by the Galileo spacecraft which will be in orbit around Jupiter until December of 1999. Using the techniques discussed in previous sections, we can examine geologic processes important on these bodies, and determine the relative ages of their surfaces. This technique of comparing newly-explored worlds to those with which we are more familiar is a common one in science.
Lecture, group work
Review information above
Do You See What I See?
Group observation and report
See previous page for preselected images (activity section)
Observations and answers:
Callisto is heavily cratered and looks like our Moon and Mercury, it appears inactive.
Ganymede has heavily cratered regions, regions with fewer craters which also have cracks and grooves (implying tectonic activity), and regions which appear to have experienced resurfacing (like our Moon). This means some areas were more recently active than others.
Europa has few craters, a smooth surface and cracks (implying tectonics). All indicate that is was recently active.
Io has very few craters and clear evidence of surface activity (volcanism), it is active today.
1. No. Weathering and erosion require wind and water, but the Galilean satellites have no atmospheres and no liquid water on the surface.
2. The main agents of change are volcanism (Io has sulfur volcanism, and Europa has possible water outflows) and tectonism (Europa and Ganymede have cracks and grooves).
3. Ganymede and Callisto have large relaxed craters (palimpsests). These satellites are made up of a large fraction of ice. The viscosity of this ice is such that (over long periods of time) the ice flows and fills in craters instead of preserving the hole. (Relate this to the cratering exercise in section IIA with respect to the composition of the target body.)
Students are observed taking part and can contribute when called on
Other Activities, Misc. Information, etc.:
Create drawings of each satellite
Include drawings in a "Jupiter's Family" scrapbook for younger children
Write a myth about why each satellite is so different
Directions: Select a recorder for your group. Using the pictures make observations of each satellite. Then answer the questions.
1. Did you see examples of weathering or erosion of craters? Why or why not?
2. What are the main agents of change you see modifying craters on Galilean
3. Are there other differences between the craters in the Jovian system, and those
in the inner solar system? (HINT - think about temperature)
EXTRA CREDIT: Find out about PALIMPSESTS
A: Possibilities include
Students will be able to relate shape and size of crater to size and speed of impactor, and surface composition
In previous sections, we examined images of the Galilean satellites taken by the Galileo spacecraft. Such images will be returned until the end of 1999, and scientists will be busy for years to come analyzing them. These data can be compared to what we already know about the Earth and the terrestrial planets, and we can use it to learn about the physical properties and geologic history of the satellites of Jupiter. We have previously examined the agents of change present on the Galilean satellites. However, there is much more we can tell about these worlds merely by carefully inspecting images of them. There are numerous things we can measure or determine by looking at images of craters of the surfaces of the Galilean satellites (or any planet). Crater depth and diameter provide information about the strength of surface materials, the impactor size and speed; crater shape relates to the structure of the surface material and its composition. The size distribution of craters within an image allows for estimations of the age of the surface.
worksheet and discussion
Have students summarize results of cratering lab: A. How are craters made?
copies of worksheet, cratering lab results
Have students complete worksheet (either individually or in groups).
Answers are then shared and defended.
All students complete worksheet and can defend their answers
Other Activities, Misc. Information, etc.:
For younger students, move words to bottom and have students cut and paste
Create an 8-frame comic of de-Terminator showing the results of each type of determiner.
size of impacting body
age of the surface
weathering agents present
Crater Size Crater Depth
_____________________ _impactor speed___________
Crater Shape Number of Craters
Note: This activity is written for two levels.
Level one is appropriate for pre-algebra students, and
level two involves more sophisticated algebra skills including the manipulation of an equation with two variables.
[see "Just how big is big?" in Craters!]
Concepts (Level One):
Crater size is related to the mass and velocity of the impacting body. Mass and velocity can be combined to find the kinetic energy of an impactor. Increasing either the mass or the velocity of the impactor increases the kinetic energy of the impact. Review the results of your crater experiments in section IIA. The size of the crater increased with the mass of the bolide, and also with the height from which it was dropped (which is proportional to the speed of impact). This fundamental physical relationship allows an estimate of impactor mass to be made from crater diameter.
Graph the mass of the bolide against the diameter of the resulting crater (for bodies dropped from the same height).
What relationship do you get?
What can you observe from your graph?
Which craters do you think resulted from larger bolides?
What assumptions are you making?
Graph the mass of the bolide, m, against the cube of the diameter, D3, of the resulting crater (for bodies dropped from the same height).
Describe and explain the relationship.
K = 1/2 m v2.
K = 1/2 m v2.
D3 is proportional to 1/2 m v2
Crater depths are indicative of both the strength of the surface material, and the impactor size and speed. A variety of crater depth exercises are available, such as "Long Distance Detective" in Craters!
The depth of a crater can be determined from the length of the shadow cast by the crater rim and the angle of the incoming light source. If the angle of incoming light and image scale are provided along with each image, students can measure shadow lengths and calculate crater depths from the relations below.
As shown in the diagram above, using the geometry of triangles, if we know Ø, the angle of incoming light, and can measure L, the length of the shadow, we can calculate d, the crater depth.
tan Ø = d / L
L * tan Ø = d
L * tan Ø = d
Are there any relationships between crater diameter and
Scientific context: Scientists often have to do considerable amounts of detective work when analyzing images taken of other worlds. The exercises above demonstrate how scientists start from a single picture and extract valuable information not only about the appearance of the surface, but also the approximate sizes of impacting bodies and the depths of craters on the surface. Crater depths provide clues to surface composition. A crater formed in a firm material such as rock can last much longer than a crater formed in a softer material, such as ice. This distinction is especially important in the outer solar system, when examining craters on such bodies as Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. These bodies are part-rock, part-ice. While ice behaves almost like rock at the very cold temperatures near Jupiter, its properties are still different enough to let large craters flow slowly over time, eventually resulting in large flat circular areas with almost no topography at all, called palimpsests. (Example image)
Crater depths are also important in understanding what events might have modified the crater since its formation. For example, a broad shallow crater on a rocky planet could have been filled in with lava at some point after its formation, either immediately afterwards if the impact was energetic enough to melt the surrounding material, or long afterwards if the planet underwent a period of volcanic activity. If part of a crater floor is higher than another part, it's possible that some sort of fault or other tectonic activity took place nearby, thus disrupting the crater. The simple technique of shadow measurement discussed above also has other applications. On earth, it can even be used to measure the height of far-off mountains or trees!
Using images the students will measure diameter and shadow length, convert to kilometer, calculate crater depth and graph results
Crater depths are indicative of both the strength of the surface material, and the impactor size and speed. A variety of crater depth exercised are available, such as "Long Distance Detective" in Craters! The depth of a crater can be determined from the length of the shadow cast by the crater rim and the angle of the incoming light source. If the angle of incoming light and image scale are provided along with each image, students can measure shadow lengths and calculate crater depths from the relations below.
As shown in the diagram above, using the geometry of triangles, if we know Ø , the angle of the incoming light, and can measure L, the length of the shadow, we can calculate d, the crater depth. The tangent function relates d, L, and Ø as follows: tan Ø = d / L (or L * tan Ø = d ). Crater depths provide clues to surface composition. A crater formed in a firm material such as rock can last much longer than a crater formed in a softer material, such as ice. This distinction is especially important in the outer solar system, when examining craters on such bodies as Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. These bodies are part-rock, part-ice. While ice behaves almost like rock at the very cold temperatures near Jupiter, its properties are still different enough to let large craters flow slowly over time, eventually resulting in large flat circular areas with no topography at all, called palimpsests [have students brainstorm other modifications here] Crater depths are also important in understanding what events might have modified the crater since its formation. For example, a broad shallow crater on a rocky planet could have been filled in with lava at some point after its formation, either immediately afterwards if the impact was energetic enough to melt the surrounding material, or long afterwards if the planet underwent a period of volcanic activity. If part of a crater floor is higher than another part, it's possible that some sort of fault or other tectonic activity took place nearby, thus disrupting the crater. The simple technique of shadow measurement discussed above also has other applications. On Earth, it can even be used to measure the height of far-off mountains or trees.
lecture, individual work, class discussion
Have students go outside and measure heights and shadow lengths for group. Complete the sheet and answer questions, then apply formula to crater measurements.
"The Shadow Knows"
lab, math application
graph paper (optional)
Work introductory part of activity, then present background information in form of lecture.
Work through formula with class, possibly even using data collected to demonstrate formula and calculation.
Hand out crater images and continue with activity.
Demonstrate conversion to kilometers (scale of photos) as necessary.
Review the types of activities that modify craters.
Answers to questions:
1. Illumination angle
2. yes, light strikes all objects at same angle
4. height of object and angle of light source, i.e. time of day
data chart completed, problems solved
Other Activities, Misc. Information, etc.:
If available, play the intro. to the classic radio show "the Shadow".
With younger children, just use the intro. activity (provide a structured data table for collecting and recording measurements) and relate to other items [flagpole, building, teacher]. Then discuss the craters.
Questions:The Shadow Knows Activity
1. Explain why time of day would be important in shadow length.
2. At the same time of day, would all shadows be in proportion to the height
of the objects being measured? Explain.
3. As the angle of the sun changes throughout the day, would the shadows
change in proportion?
4. What are the two determining factors in shadow length?
Crater 1 Crater 3
Crater 2 Crater 4
The size distribution of craters on a planetary body can be used to estimate relative, and even absolute, surface ages. As discussed in part II, in the absence of agents of change such as erosion, tectonics, and volcanism, a planetary surface tends to become saturated with craters. Since even currently inactive bodies like the moon were active at some point in their past, surface processes have removed craters at some point in every planet's past. Thus regions on a body with higher crater densities tend to be older than regions with lower crater densities. This activity will investigate crater densities and size distributions, and interpret those in terms of relative and absolute surface ages.
[complete activities are available elsewhere... Craters!, "Crater Count"]
Scientific context: The first part of the activity above revealed that small craters are much more common than large ones. This is because small bolides are more common than large ones, and, as seen in activity IIIA, crater diameter is proportional to bolide size. Smaller bolides would be more common than larger ones if most craters are caused by impacts of asteroid fragments. The asteroid belt is a region of small planetesimals, most of which orbit the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Asteroids come in sizes from very small to very large, but the size distribution is not random. Rather, it is governed by the fact that asteroids often collide with each other. In such a collision, both asteroids break into smaller pieces. The size of these pieces follows a predictable distribution (which can be simulated in a laboratory) made up of many small fragments and a few larger ones. Over geologic time, therefore, asteroids continue to collide with each other and produce many small fragments. These bodies may eventually collide with the planets, producing a crater size distribution dominated by smaller craters.
The activity above also involved measurements of crater densities, which can be used for relative dating of planetary surfaces. Assuming that bolides strike all regions of a planet at approximately the same rate, all areas of the surface should have the same crater density unless agents of change have removed some of them during the planet's geologic history. A common way for large numbers of craters to be removed is through volcanism. Early in the Moon's history, for example, large lava flows flooded portions of the surface, completely burying any craters which were there at the time. These areas were essentially wiped clean of craters about 3.5 billion years ago andnd thus their crater density dates back to those lava flows. The lunar highlands, in contrast, were not flooded by lava flows. Their crater density dates back to when they were formed, about 4.1 billion years ago, and thus is much higher. Io, in contrast to the ancient Moon, is one of the most geologically active bodies in the solar system today. Its surface has no recognizable impact craters, and is continually being resurfaced by volcanic eruptions which cover any craters which might form. Regions of a surface with a higher crater density are older than regions with a lower crater density, and a surface like Io's, with no observable craters, is extremely young and implies current geologic activity.
Crater size distributions can also be used to estimate the absolute age of a surface. The cratering rate decreased with time in the early solar system, beginning when the planets finished forming about 4.5 billion years ago and there was much leftover interplanetary debris to cause impacts. The amount of debris decreased over time as collisions and impacts swept it up, thus decreasing the frequency of impacts. By measuring the crater density on different areas of the Moon, and measuring the actual ages of rocks returned from different regions by Apollo astronauts, scientists can calibrate cratering rate to actual surface ages. This relationship of cratering rate vs. time can then be extrapolated to other places in the solar system, since it can vary based on distance from the asteroid belt (Mars, located nearer to the asteroid belt than the Earth, may have a rate of crater formation roughly twice that at earth) and proximity to large planets such as Jupiter, whose gravitational field attracts impactors.
Students will be able to use observations to gather information, and use context clues to place information into complete statements.
Discuss job of satellite spacecraft - to collect and return data for interpretation
'answers' preprinted (see list below), mounted on colored paper and placed around the room in plain sight
copy of the worksheet for each student
A. Have students read through worksheet with blanks.
B. Explain that the words (answers) that fit in the blanks are in the room.
C. Allow students to walk around the room to gather information (words) - tell the students not to move the words or point them out to others. There is no talking.
D. After sufficient time looking, students should be able to find and place most words in the proper places in the worksheet.
Answer Words (make sure to eliminate corresponding number when placing around room)
1. small 14. relative dating 2. large 15. agents of change 3. small 16. volcanism 4. large 17. Io 5. asteroid 18. resurfaced 6. asteroid belt 19. older 7. Mars 20. planets 8. Jupiter 21. 4.5 billion years 9. collide 22. debris 10. collision 23. frequency 11. predictable distribution 24. Apollo astronauts 12. geologic 25. surface 13. planets
Go over worksheet together
Student sheet completed
1. _____________ craters are much more common than 2. ______________ ones. This is because 3. _______________ bolides are more common than 4. ________________ones, and crater diameter is proportional to bolide size. Smaller bolides would be more common than larger ones if most craters were caused by impacts of 5. ________________ fragments. The 6. ________________is a region of small planetesimals, most of which orbit the sun between the orbits of 7. __________________ and 8. ________________. Asteroids come in size from very small to very large, but the size distribution is not random. Rather, it is governed by the fact that asteroids often 9. _________________ with each other. In such a 10. __________________, both asteroids break into smaller pieces. The size of the pieces follows a 11. __________________________________ (which can be simulated in a laboratory) made up of many small fragments and a few larger one. Over the 12. _________________ time, therefore, asteroids continue to collide and produce many small fragments. These bodies may continue to collide with the 13. ____________________, producing a crater size distribution dominated by smaller craters.
Measurements of crater densities can be used for 14. ____________________ of planetary surfaces. Assuming that bolides strike all regions of a planet at approximately the same rate, all areas of the surface should have the same crater density unless 15._______________________ have removed them during the planet's geologic history. A common way for large numbers of craters to be removed is through 16. ____________. 17. _________________ , in contrast to the ancient Moon, is one of the most geologically active bodies in the solar system today. It's surface has no recognizable impact craters, and is continually being 18. __________________ by volcanic eruptions which cover any craters which might form. Regions of a surface with a higher crater density are 19. ______________ than regions with a lower crater density, and a surface like Io's, with no observable craters, is extremely young and implies current geologic activity.
Crater size distributions can also be used to estimate the absolute age of a surface. The cratering rate decreased with time in the early solar system, beginning when the 20. ________________ finished forming about 21. ____________________ ago and there was much left over interplanetary 22. ________________ to cause impacts. The amount of debris decreased over time as collisions and impacts swept it up, thus decreasing the 23. ___________________ of impacts. By measuring the crater density of different areas of the Moon, and measuring the actual ages of rocks returned from different regions by 24. ______________________________, scientists can calibrate cratering rate to actual 25. _____________________ ages.
This set of activities has shown the wealth of information obtainable from the simplest black and white images of a planetary surface. Much of the first wave of reconnaissance of the solar system was done in just this way, with scientists working to understand the little information they had from the early planetary spacecraft. The Galileo spacecraft, which will remain in orbit in the Jovian system until late 1997, not only has a camera capable of taking black and white images of the surfaces of the satellites, but also has a wealth of other instruments to augment this information. The camera has filters in six different colors, allowing color images to be taken and analyzed. This can yield valuable information about the chemical composition of surface materials. Other instruments on Galileo allow it to measure properties of Jupiter and its satellites at a variety of near infrared wavelengths, investigate the radiation and magnetic environments, and obtain more precise measurements of the sizes and densities of the satellites. Galileo's two-year tour through the Jovian system should provide information for scientists to study for years to come.
Sources: Some information in this module was adapted from Craters: A Multi-Science Approach to Cratering and Impacts, by W.K. Hartmann and J. Cain. A Joint Project of the National Science Teachers Association, The Planetary Society, and NASA. Published by the National Science Teachers Association, 1995.
Review information of unit
group discussion, project layout
have each student list 5 facts they learned from the unit lessons
"Crazy Crater Conclusion Collection"
large butcher paper, pens, student lessons from unit
Have students work in groups to:
A. Share own 5 facts from lessons
B. Tally or record all facts -- As groups decide on a way to demonstrate the various collections (graphs, prioritizations, continuums, info webs, etc).
C. Have groups display info on large paper, including any questions they would like to have answered.
Visual check of charts/papers.
All students should be able to explain all points on the collection paper
Other Activities, Misc. Information, etc.:
Materials can be notebooked so each student has a collection of unit work.
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