Teacher Resources: What Does an Impact Look Like?

Our early solar system was littered with the left-over building blocks of planets, called “planetesimals,” that were hitting the surfaces of everything that existed at the time - the planets, moons, asteroids and comets.

The period of heavy bombardment, estimated to have occurred between 4.1-3.8 billion years ago, must have looked like chaos! A large fraction of the impacts in the solar system occurred during this time. Impacts have continued throughout the history of the solar system, just at lower rates. Most of the impacting objects vaporize in the process, leaving only small fragments scattered over a wide area.

Discovery Activity: Observing Impacts

Scientists who study impacts must rely on models and experiments to help them understand impact processes. This activity will allow students to observe complex computer impact models.

Discovery Activity: What Happened at the Barringer Meteorite Crater?

About 50,000 years ago a meteorite traveling up to 20km/s (72,000km/h or 45,000 mph) slammed into what is now the Arizona desert. This activity will provide a useful representation/explanation of the impact that created the Barringer Meteorite Crater.

Discovery Activity: Where On Earth?

The Earth has impact craters scattered across its surface. Some are exposed and easily identifiable (like Barringer Meteorite Crater). Others have become eroded or hidden by vegetation, water, or metamorphism. Using an online tool, the Crater Timemap, students will gather data to identify impact craters on six continents.


Educational Standards Met

National Science Education 

Science as Inquiry

  • A1.c Students develop descriptions, explanations, predictions and models using evidence 

Earth & Space Science

  • D1 Land forms are a combination of constructive and destructive forces
  • D2 Earth History is influenced by occasional catastrophes such as the impact of asteroids or comets.

2061 Benchmarks for Science Literacy

The Physical Setting - Processes that shape the Earth

  • 4C/M2a Some changes in the Earth’s surface are abrupt while other changes happen very slowly.

National Educational Technology Standards

Standard 1- Creativity and Innovation

  • Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.

Standard 3- Research and Information Fluency 

  • Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate and use information