Planetary Defenders meteorite

Meteorite Investigators

Overview

Analyze and compare rocks to identify which ones might be actual meteorites.

What's the Point?

  • Space rocks called meteorites sometimes fall on Earth and provide us with clues about the solar system’s formation.
  • Meteorites have very specific characteristics that distinguish them from rocks on Earth.

Materials

For the facilitator:

  • 3 or 4 Earth rocks (at least 2 inches wide but small enough to hold) with interesting appearances
  • 1 or 2 meteorites similar in size to the Earth rocks. Consider requesting touchable samples from your local museum, planetarium, university, or astronomy club, or purchase from a source such as
  • Numbered cards, positioned next to each rock sample
  • 2 magnets
  • Sign or handout of Meteorite Characteristics
  • (optional) a magnifying lens for each sample
  • (optional) a scratch plate (back of a glazed ceramic tile) for each sample
  • Background Information about meteorites

For each child:

Correlation to Standards

Next Generation Science Standards:
HS-ESS1-6. Apply scientific reasoning and evidence from ancient Earth materials, meteorites, and other planetary surfaces to construct an account of Earth’s formation and early history.

Disciplinary Core Idea: The solar system contains many varied objects held together by gravity.

Crosscutting Concepts:

  • Patterns: students identify similarities and differences in order to sort and classify natural objects and designed products.

Science and Engineering Practices:

  • Practice 4 Analyzing and Interpreting Data:
    Use observations (firsthand or from media) to describe patterns and/or relationships in the natural and designed world(s) in order to answer scientific questions and solve problems.

Supporting Resources

Videos

Images

Websites

Activity

  1. Share with the children that meteorites are rocks from space that land on the Earth. (They can also land on other planets and moons.) Invite the children to share what they know about meteorites.
    Facilitator’s Note: Most people confuse asteroids, meteorites, and meteors (or “shooting stars”)—asteroids are large rocky bodies in space, meteorites are rocks that have landed on Earth, and meteors are the brilliant streaks of light we see as particles from space are heated in our atmosphere.

    If a participant’s statements are incorrect, consider asking additional questions to the group that allow them to share what they know, rather than immediately correcting them.
    Follow-up questions could include:
    • Have you ever seen a shooting star—a meteor—in the sky? What did it look like? Did it move fast or slow?
    • What do you think happens if the rock that’s burning up in our atmosphere reaches the ground?
    • Would it be easy or hard to tell if a rock is a rock from space?
  2. Optional: Watch a video clip or look at photos of meteorites.
  3. Invite the children to pick up each numbered rock sample, and to share their observations. How does the sample feel? What does it look like? Do they see any evidence that it might be a meteorite?
    As much as possible, encourage the children to offer information and to respond to others’ questions, rather than answering them yourself. Use phrases like “What do the rest of you think?” “Do you agree with ____?” “Do you have any additional ideas?”
  4. Show the children the handout or sign with characteristics of a meteorite.
  5. Give each child a Meteorite Investigator sheet and pencil, and invite them to test the numbered rock samples:
    • For signs of density—is the rock unusually heavy?
    • For evidence of magnetism (using the magnet)
    • For little stoney balls (chondrules), using the magnifying glass
    • For a colored streak on the ceramic scratch plate (if available)
    Based on these observations, do they see any new evidence that the sample might be a meteorite? Invite them to fill out their sheets.
  6. Hold a discussion with the group; comparing their descriptions and thoughts of each rock sample. Allow the children’s thinking to be shaped by the experience — refrain from giving your own conclusions. Encourage them to talk to each other (in pairs or small groups) as they note their observations. Possible discussion prompts:
    • What does this sample look like? What are its characteristics? Did anyone see anything else or different?
    • What evidence do you have that this might be a meteorite?
    • What evidence do you have that this is not a meteorite?

Facilitator’s Notes: This activity highlights the process of science. Observation and classification of objects are important components of how science is actually done; participants may struggle with different interpretations of their observations. Making observations and sharing their interpretations are more important than being “right” or “wrong.”

Facilitators are welcome to share which rocks scientists might classify as meteorites after the children have reached their conclusions.


Conclusion

Thank the children for their research! Ask whether it was easy to determine which samples were meteorites, and whether they were surprised by their findings.

Share that sometimes even scientists make mistakes about which rocks are meteorites; they sometimes need to slice open the rocks and look at them under a high-powered microscope to really tell.

Meteorites are samples of asteroids, planets, and moons, and that scientists use these valuable pieces of evidence to understand our solar system.

Consider following up with other activities, such as the Space Rocks game.

Additional Background Information for the Facilitator

Meteorites – rocks from space - have been found all over the Earth. But because they are rocks, it’s sometimes hard to tell if a certain rock is a meteorite.

Meteorites often are heavy for their size because they can contain large amounts of iron. Because of this, they also attract a magnet.

Meteorites often have a dark brown or black glassy crust – the fusion crust – that forms as the rock is heated by friction in Earth’s atmosphere as it falls to Earth’s surface. The outer part of the rock actually melts!

The inside of the rock is gray to black but can be tan if it has weathered (been exposed to rain and wind and air). Meteorites do not have any visible fossils. Some meteorites – like those from Mars - are similar on the inside to Earth rocks – but the fusion crust is the “give-away.”