After the recent time change we were all out of sorts for a week as we adjusted to our new sleep schedule and to less daylight for playing outside. But one good thing did come of the clocks moving back. We can now see the moon! While we are in school! We’ve been talking so such about space and traveling to the moon, and now we can see it glowing in the night sky, inspiring us to ask questions and imagine what it might be like 240, 000 miles into space.
We were outside looking at the moon and remembered one of our books talking about the surface of the moon looking like cheese, or like a face. ER and ZP knew that the moon was, in fact, not made of cheese so we got to thinking about what all the dark spots might be. I told them that I had some books we could read to learn more about it, if they were interested.
The next day we started digging around in some books and saw close up pictures of the real moon. The kids noticed dark spots all over it and in The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons, we found a passage that told us the moon has mountains, valleys and craters caused by asteroids crashing into its surface. This immediately reminded the kids about a book that AD brought to share, Oh No, Astro by Matt Roeser, about and asteroid heading straight for Earth. In this book the giant asteroid burns up in Earth’s atmosphere until it becomes a small pebble sized asteroid. This gave me an idea for a fun activity.
We got to circle and I told the group about what some of their classmates had been researching. I reminded them about Astro and how even though he was big, all the protective gasses in our atmosphere made him get smaller and smaller as he approached the surface of Earth. I then told them that the moon only has a little tiny, itty bitty atmosphere so it’s not very well protected. I asked them: What would happen if Astro was heading towards the moon instead of Earth?
Some kids thought Astro would still get smaller and just plop onto the moon like a pebble, some guessed that Astro would smash the moon into a million pieces, while others hypothesized that Astro would hit the moon really hard. Most kids admitted that while they had a guess, and hopes about what would happen, they didn’t really know. It was time to test our hypotheses!
I gathered some damp sand from the sandbox in a tray and an assortment of rocks, balls, glass gems and crystals from around the school. We passed the different asteroids around comparing size, shape, density and texture. Then each child had a turn to choose their asteroid and drop it onto the surface of the moon.
After each drop we gathered around the tray to see what had happened. The asteroids were making big dents in the sand. Often with high ridges and sometimes they even made cracks in the sand stemming away from the crater. The kids loved pointing out when they saw a mountain formed by the crash. When we shined a flashlight (the sun) at the surface from different angles, the sand pit quickly transformed into a replica of the real moon’s surface.
We also took slow motion video so we could get a good look at what was happening. The kids noticed how the sand would spray away from the asteroid. We imagined those pieces of the moon breaking off and becoming new meteors floating in space.
The moon is so large and distant that it can be difficult, impossible even, to imagine its enormity. These small scale experiments allow us to make tangible observations and better understand how things we can’t see might work. And it’s fun to throw rocks. As we continue to compare our special home to the other celestial bodies in our galaxy, we are becoming more and more grateful for what we’ve got here on Earth. Books about the environment and different ecosystems, made possible by those protective gasses in our atmosphere, are trickling into the classroom to add more personal connections to our space investigations. I’m excited to see what questions the children ask next so we can find the answers!