Future Moon: The Footsteps of Explorers
Adapted from part B of The Scoop on Moon Dirt, Explore! To the Moon and Beyond – with NASA's LRO Mission, Lunar and Planetary Institute.
Children drop impactors onto layers of graham crackers! The process models how impacts throughout the Moon's history have broken rocks down into a mixture of dust, rocks, and boulders that covers the lunar surface. They consider how the dust will continue to hold a record of human exploration — in the form of astronaut bootprints — for countless years in the future. Children may examine a type of Earth soil ("lunar soil simulant") that is similar to what is found on the Moon’s surface and that would have been shaped by the processes explored here. The children create their own records of exploration by making rubbings of their shoes to decorate the library or take home.
What's the Point?
- The Moon's surface is pulverized by ongoing impacts, which have formed a very fine, dusty lunar "soil" — regolith.
- Because the Moon is geologically inactive — other than continuous small impactors striking the surface — Apollo astronauts' bootprints from decades ago still are preserved today in the lunar dust.
- The children are lunar explorers as they discover the Moon through this activity.
- Models — such as those the children are using here — can be tools for understanding the natural world.
The following materials are for one The Footsteps of Explorers activity setand will serve approximately 10 children working in teams of two to three.
Two sets are recommended for a station:
- Optional: Butcher paper, newspapers, or disposable table cloths for the activity area
- Fist-sized rock or a (1–lb.) box of baking soda wrapped in aluminum foil
- 1 sheet of aluminum foil to cover the rock or baking soda box
- 1 large cardboard box (~2" per side) with high sides
- 10–15 graham crackers (enough to cover the bottom of the box with two layers)
- 1 local soil sample in a small, open container
- Optional: lunar soil simulant contained in a clear plastic container or sealable clear plastic bag
- Moon Map: Apollo Landing Sites
- Images of lunar dust, preferably printed in color
- The Footsteps of Explorers station sign
- The Footsteps of Explorers children's guide
- Art materials, such as colored pencils, crayons, and markers
- Crayons with the wrappers removed, for making rubbings
For each child:
- Future Moon: The Footsteps of Explorers comic panel
- His/her Marvel Moon comic book and binder clip
- 1 pencil or pen
For the facilitator:
Facilitator's Note: Children may investigate lunar dust and the problems it poses for exploration in the Explore! To the Moon and Beyond! activity, The Scoop on Moon Dirt.
- Cover the floor with butcher paper, newspapers, or disposable table cloths, if desired.
- Print the images of lunar dust and the astronaut footprints. Spread them out on the table.
- Cover the rock or baking soda with aluminum foil and set it out at the station. Set the large box on the floor in an area where the children can drop the rock or baking soda box into it. Cover the bottom of the box with two layers of graham crackers.
- Collect a local soil sample from your nearby (perhaps from a field, a flower bed, or the area near a stream) and place it at the station for the children to investigate.
- Place a sample of lunar soil stimulant in a clear plastic container or sealed clear plastic bag. Lunar soil stimulant is made of basalt from Earth that has been pulverized until it has properties of lunar regolith. It has very fine sharp particles; children should not touch it or inhale the dust. Lunar soil stimulant is used by NASA researchers for many investigations, including studying its properties, how it interacts with equipment, and how it might affect humans exposed to it while living and working on the lunar surface.
- Place the art materials and crayons, Moon map, and children's guide at the station.
Described in the children's guide.
The children should identify the rock or baking soda box as an asteroid. Just as the graham crackers were crushed over time, the impacts over billions of years have ground the lunar rocks into a fine, brittle dust. Unlike on Earth, the Moon's surface is not broken down by water, wind, and other processes. The footprints of the Apollo astronauts remain preserved in the dust on the lunar surface.
A Little Background for the Facilitator
The Moon is covered with circular patches. Some of these are huge, covering more area than the state of Texas. Some are miniscule, smaller than the tip of a pin. All are caused by the innumerable meteoroids and comets bashing into the surface of the Moon over its 4.5-billion-year lifetime. The large ones you can see from your backyard were created when large meteoroids — asteroids — or comets impacted the Moon. Smaller ones were made by smaller meteoroids. Impactors come in all sizes, and they create circular depressions — craters — of all sizes. These impacts pulverized rocks on the lunar surface, reducing them to a dusty, rock material called regolith that covers the Moon's surface — in some cases deeper than 50 feet (15 meters).
The Moon has no atmosphere, so there is no wind, and there is no flowing water on the Moon to weather away the surface The Apollo astronauts explored six small areas on the Moon and left their footprints preserved in the dust.
Scientists at the Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Studies are investigating the nature of lunar dust and its impact for human exploration of the Moon. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission is currently orbiting the Moon and mapping the presence of different elements and characterizing the regolith. The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Experiment Explorer (LADEE) mission, scheduled to launch in 2011, will collect data about lunar dust while orbiting the Moon.