Solar System Collisions

The Solar System Collisions web tool with student activities and accompanying instructor materials is currently being field tested. If you teach undergraduates or have students interested in astronomy and would like to participate in the field test, please contact Grace Deming at

What do students learn?

As a part of our research we are assessing the effectiveness of the web materials on the Astronomy Workshop site. The student activities were developed after a series of interviews with introductory astronomy students of various backgrounds and mathematics abilities. The learning outcomes for the Solar System Collisions activities are:

  1. Students will explore how the size and composition of a projectile affects the energy released in the impact.
  2. Students will investigate how projectile size and composition affect the crater diameter and depth, time between similar collisions, and magnitude of earthquake produced.
  3. Students will relate projectile composition to real objects found in space (asteroids and comets).
  4. Students will compare collisions on Earth to those on other planets in the Solar System.
  5. Students will construct a data table and analyze their results.
  6. Students will utilize the kinetic energy formula to draw conclusions.
  7. Students will consider the consequences of a catastrophic impact.

How to best use these activities?

The activities are arranged in a numbered question format so that you may assign the questions that best serve your purposes. Our research shows that the Solar System Collision activities are most effective after students are presented with an introduction to how impact craters form, have some knowledge of potential projectiles (asteroids and comets), and gained a respect for the destructive forces released after a large impact occurs (Meteor Crater or Chicxulub dinosaur extinction impact as examples). We are including a Powerpoint Powerpoint slideshow that can be used as an introduction to this subject.

The first four activities include blank data tables to help students learn how to collect the data needed to answer the questions posted. Additional activities omit the blank data table, but rely on the student having acquired this skill from earlier activities or previous instruction. By assigning one or more of the first four activities, you are providing your students with examples of a method that can be used to answer the questions posed.

When students select variables for the collisions on Earth, a location is given where the shooting star, airblast, or crater occurs. These are randomly selected, so each student’s paper should be unique. This feature provides an easy way to assure that students are individually completing the assignment.


Please help us to improve our activities by providing comments on our feedback form.