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Online Explorations
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Whip up a batch of comets — without trashing the kitchen!

Online Exploration: Comets allows students to whip up a batch of comets without trashing the kitchen. Students mix different ingredients, elements, and compounds found in a comet's nucleus to make comets with different features. They discover that the appearance of the comet tails depends on the elements and compounds found in the nucleus. An assessment activity using real images of comets asks students to identify the type of tail shown. Students also explore myths, legends, and facts connected with comets throughout history.

Online interactive
5-8, but the material can be adapted for use in other grades at the teacher's discretion
How to use in the classroom

Online Exploration: Comets can be used to introduce students to the chemistry of comets and their tails. In the process of mixing and viewing comets, students learn what materials are responsible for producing the dust and gas ion tails as well as the orientation of the tail as the comet passes near the Sun.

A special feature of this activity is the "Comet Facts, Myths, and Legends" section, which address the following topics: "The Hair Out There" (how comets got their names), "Friend or Foe" (good luck charms or a curse?), "What Goes Around Comes Around" (the periodicity of comets), "Forecast: Showers Likely" (meteor showers are caused by the debris left by comets passing through Earth’s orbit), "Crash Course" (was a comet responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs?), and "Famous Comets" (featuring Hale-Bopp, Swift-Tuttle, Hyakutake, Halley, and Shoemaker-Levy 9). This section can be used to enhance a student’s knowledge and understanding about comets. Teachers might consider using the topics for assigning further research to groups of students.

For more suggestions about how to use this activity in the classroom, access the lesson plan by clicking on the Teaching Tips button found on the first page of the activity. A science background component (the "All About Comets" button) contains information about comets that may be used by teachers and students. Other resources (the "Comet Links" button) include the images used in the activity, related web sites, and references. Specific information about computer requirements (the "Computer Needs" button) can also be found on the first page of the activity. In addition, “How to prepare for an online ‘Amazing Space’ activity” provides tips for setting up and using this activity in the classroom.

Related materials

Amazing Space resources by topic: Comets and asteroids

Printable Parts

The printable images used in the activity are listed in the Grab Bag section, which can be found by clicking "Comet Links" on the first page of the activity.