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  • Key Stage 3
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Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Scientific writing
Topic: Solar System

After a 3 billion mile journey, spacecraft Stardust has returned safely to Earth bearing a precious cargo – dust grains from the tail of comet Wild 2 (pronounced Vilt 2 after its Swiss discoverer). Scientists are excited about analysing the dust, believing it will reveal secrets about the origins and composition of the universe, as well as evidence about the origins of life on Earth and the mass extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In this activity, students are asked to defend Stardust's $200 million price tag at a press conference, as well as produce an exciting graphic to support their talks.

11 – 14 The solar system and beyond; gravity and space

Published: 17th January 2006
Reviews & Comments: 5

Learning objectives

Students will:
Discover what scientists hope to learn from analysing the tail dust of comet Wild 2
Consider the value of analysing Wild 2's tail dust

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

7L the solar system and beyond
Our solar system includes the Sun, its planets and asteroids and the natural satellites of the planets
That the planets orbit the Sun in similar ways to the Earth
How evidence about the solar system has been collected and interpreted

9j gravity and space
Our ideas about the solar system have changed over time

Running the activity

Show page 1 (either projected or as an OHT). Emphasise the challenges of the journey as well as the successful completion of Stardust's mission. Then introduce a potential controversy – the mission's $200 million cost – and clarify the task. Students will need to use the information on pages 2 and 3 to do the task.

Display page 2, which describes the mission. You might like to go into more detail about aerogel, the material that captured the dust grains:
Aerogel is a silicon-based solid comprising up to 99.9% air, commonly referred to as 'frozen smoke'. It is lightweight (1000 times less dense than glass) and a very effective insulator (39 times more so than fibreglass). Potential applications of aerogel include components of spacecraft and space stations, in sensors to detect chemical warfare agents, or as super insulation between window panes. NASA has used aerogel to trap tiny particles of space dust for research. In 2003 aerogel was the least dense solid in the world.
Give each group a photocopy of page 3 and ask them to do the task described on page 1. Emphasise that students should focus on what scientists hope to learn from Stardust's mission.
When students have completed the task, ask some groups to present their talks and graphics to the rest of the class (a bunch of journalists at a press conference!). Encourage those listening to ask questions.

News links

University of Berkeley, USA
Home computer buffs are needed to search the aerogel for particles of interstellar dust!
Stardust NASA site with lots of internal links

mission overview
quicktime movie of Stardust's path
and the Why bring a comet home feature are good for classroom use
Origins of the solar system
Origins of the solar system
Planet 10 World Builder
Think you could create the perfect World? Here's your chance to try. With World Builder. There's also a virtual Solar System to explore

Reviews & Comments

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