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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

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?

Good quality

Mar 26th, 2008

5 Star

Material is engaging and relatively easy to use.
As HOD science it helps make my job manageable.

Reviewer: Derrick Shortridge


Oct 17th, 2006

4 Star

I used this with my low ability year 10 class to add some spice to the course and try something different. They really got into it and disn't want to leave by the end of the lesson! They made impressive colourful posters to put across their views.

Reviewer: Hannah Kwaszenko


Apr 2nd, 2006

5 Star

I used bits and pieces of this with a high ability year 11 group looking at the rather dry gravity/space bit of their GCSE.
They were intrigued at the very current nature of the material and the aerogel photos produced some very interesting discussions on possible molecular structures in the gel.
Several pupils reported spending their own time reading the associated websites.
All in all very worthwhile even though I didn't perhaps use it in the way it was originally intended.

Reviewer: Jill Cadwaladr


Feb 5th, 2006

5 Star

I used it with my Yr9 girls, and coupled with an interactive website,
it made for a fantastic discussion, lending itself to all academic abilities.
With me being a prebiotic chemist too, it got me all excited!!!
More of the same please!!!!

Reviewer: Karl Downing


Feb 2nd, 2006

5 Star

Excellent backdrop for a discussion lesson. I used it with yr7 as a penultimate lesson in the S System and beyond unit.

That the topic is recent really helps, qlthough for many they were being introduced to the fact that this spacecrafts exists.
A hyperlink to its launch or retrieval would pep it up no end.
Thanks alot.

Indira Vanar
Acland Burghley School

Reviewer: Indira Vanar