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Crater Impact

  • Key Stage 3
  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Practical work
Topic: Solar System

The Deep Impact spacecraft is on course to fire a probe into a Comet Tempel One. The probe is a lump of copper travelling at 100 times the speed of a bullet. It is expected to blast a hole in the heart of the space rock, spraying out ice and dust. Analysing this event could shed light on the origin of the planets. This event will happen on 05.52 GMT, 4th July 2005.The copper lump is the size of a school desk and will hit the comet at 23,000 mph (40 000 km per hour). This will make a crater and throw material into space.

Published: 30th June 2005
Reviews & Comments: 9

Learning objectives

Note: we have now fixed problems people had downloading the game.
1) download the 'zip file' to your machine.
2) Open the zip file using 'winzip' (you can get a free trial copy from This will put the files in a new folder on your computer
3) To start the game, click on the file 'index.htm' (or 'game.htm) and it will open with your web browser
You will need the 'Flash' plug-in to play (which most computer have already - there is a link to download it)

The activity sheets support a full investigation. We are doubling this up with a computer game called Comet Chaser. Pupils have to choose the correct parameters to get their rocket to take off, sling shot round a planet, catch the asteroid and land a probe on it.

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Unit 9J Gravity and Space

GCSE specifications
Edexcel - Topic 12, Space and it's mysteries

Running the activity

Why not start by showing the BBC's news story on video? (see weblinks below)

Pupils read page 1 Crater Impact to set the context. Page 2 is a help sheet.
• Asteroid speed Pupils are told that dropping the object from different heights gives it a different speed on impact. Speed is used (rather than height) to make it easier to predict the effect on the kinetic energy of the asteroid and thus the effect of the impact.
• Asteroid mass this can be varied using objects of different sizes. For a fair test, these should be made of the same material e.g. all ball bearings or plasticine. Mass is used (rather than diameter) to make it easier to predict the effect on the kinetic energy of the asteroid and thus the effect of the impact.
• Debris range this is the furthest distance any sand from the 'planet surface' travels. Sprinkling powder paint over the surface with a sieve and tapping the container so it settles makes measurement easier.
• Crater size this is the diameter of the crater that the dropped object makes.
Pupils than plan their investigation, using the question prompts on the help sheet – page 2. Knowledge of the formula for kinetic energy is needed to make predictions about how the speed or mass of the asteroid will affect the impact. Pupils are told that the bigger the kinetic energy, the bigger the crater and the bigger the debris range.It is worth doing a trial run to check that there is enough sand/powder in the tray.

Extension activities- pages 3 and 4
• These activities exploit the context of the investigation, giving it a more personal dimension. Pupils can scale up their results to estimate the effects of a real impact, and also consider ways we could protect ourselves from a collision. They get more practice of calculations and thinking about probabilities.
• Some of the activities are more appropriate for brighter pupils.
• For Activity 1, pupils will need results from an investigation into debris range for the calculation.

Full answers and technician's notes are given on the downloadable version of the teacher's notes.

News links

The BBC news story on video
a 2 minute report with lovely pictures and animation on how the comet struck
The place to go for more information.
Deep Impact information.
A stunning animation.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Mar 16th, 2011

5 Star


Reviewer: Tom Egerton-Jones

Physical science 9th grade

Sep 19th, 2010

5 Star

I like the format for this activity. Students really enjoyed dropping objects from various heights.
Instead of using sand, I used flour and on the top layer I sprinkled tempera power so the students could see that the substance below is ejected up and to the side of the crater at various distances.
It was awesome to have the impact speeds available at the different drop heights. It links science to real world applications.

Reviewer: Cheri Gerhart

Crater Impact review

Oct 19th, 2008

5 Star

upd8 has been very helpful since i started using it. when i need an activity that is quite exciting, i will always find something very useful from this weebsite.

Reviewer: George Tikum

Catch a comet

May 22nd, 2008

4 Star

Could someone please tell me what is the solution for the catch the comet so we can get a successful mission?

Reviewer: louisa vickers

Crater Impact review

May 19th, 2008

5 Star

great activity, useful for the Gateway Science in the News on asteroid impact, fab post sats activity too

Reviewer: Elizabeth Guirguis

Crater Impact review

Oct 31st, 2007

4 Star

Great especially after watching deep impact clip

Reviewer: Liz Parker

Crater Impact

May 23rd, 2006

4 Star

Good activity - enjoyed by year 9's as post SATS investigation. In terms of variables to measure - debris size works best as crater size is very much influenced by size of ball and is difficult to measure. If debris size is done then extension activity is easier to do. Warning - your lab may get covered in flour dust - happened once with some over enthusiastic students - then negotiations with cleaners begin!

Reviewer: Pauline Kinch

Good Activity

Jul 5th, 2005

3 Star

Good activity but I also could not get the game to run.

Reviewer: Fred O'Leary

Topic: Earth and Space - crater impact

Jul 5th, 2005

1 Star

Was unable to access the game. the idea was good an was useful at the end of year 9.

Reviewer: Daryl McPhail