Solar System SciPack Meteorite and Comet Simulations

Solar System SciPack Meteorite and Comet Simulations


Grade Level:                                       Subject:                                                             Writer                                    

5-8                                                          Earth and Space Science                                Maureen Stover              


Lesson Goal

This is the goal of the lesson is explore the composition and motion of meteors, asteroids, and comets.


Students will be able to:

·         Describe the size, composition, and motion of meteors and comets.

·         Discuss the similarities and differences in comets and meteors.

·         Explain what happens to meteors as they fall through the Earth’s atmosphere.

·         Explain why comet debris is observed as a meteor shower from the Earth.

·         Explain how the planets’ gravitational forces affect a comet’s orbit.

·         Explain why we see a comet’s tail.

·         Discuss why a comet disintegrates when it gets close to the Sun.

Standards Alignment

From Next Generation Science Standards:

MS-ESS1-2:   Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions with galaxies and the solar system. (

                - Science and Engineering Practice:  Developing and using models

              -  Disciplinary Core Ideas:  ESS1B:  Earth and the Solar System

              -  Crosscutting Concepts:  MS-ESS1-1:  Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationship


From Common Core State Standards:

RST.6:  Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis o science and technical texts.

SL.8.5:  Include Multimedia components and visual displays in presentations to clarify claims and findings and emphasize salient points.


Time Required

30 minutes


Materials Needed

List any materials that will be needed to complete the lesson.

·         Figure 2.9 Comet Debris – Meteor Shower Simulation (Solar System SciPack -> Asteroids, Comets, and Meteors -> Rocky Bodies -> A Closer Look at Meteorites)

·         Figure 3.7 Life of a Comet Simulation (Solar System SciPack -> Asteroids, Comets, and Meteorites -> Rock and Ice -> A Closer Look at Comets)

·         Whiteboard, Interactive Whiteboard

·         Computer to display interactive simulation on whiteboard

·         Student Journals

·         Comet and Meteor T-Chart Graphic Organizer

This lesson has been developed for a whiteboard or interactive whiteboard. You can adapt the lesson for individual student use via laptops, iPads, tablets, or computers. If you select this option, you will need put the interactive simulation onto all of the devices the students will be using. You will also need to ensure that you have enough devices for all of your students.


Prerequisite Knowledge

Students will require the following prerequisite knowledge prior to watching the simulations:

·         Be familiar with the following vocabulary terms:  Solar System, asteroid, comet, meteor, meteorite, meteroids, orbit, gravitational forces, Kepler Belt, and Asteroid Belt

·         Understand the relative position of the Sun, Planets, Asteroid Belt, and Kepler Belt within our Solar System



Before the Lesson: 

Before the lesson the teacher should do the following:

·         Ensure you have all of the equipment available and prepared for the lesson

·         Pre-load simulations on electronic devices

·         Review simulation instructions

·         Review vocabulary terms

·         Review the location of the Asteroid Belt, and Kepler Belt in relation to the planets



·         Middle school students are often confused about the nature of meteors, which are sometimes called “shooting stars.” Many students take this name quite literally and assume that meteors are in fact stars that have “fallen,” thus reinforcing their naïve belief that stars are small objects, not too far from Earth.

·         A common misconception is that comets “streak across the sky,” rather than move very slowly against the background stars, like planets. This is probably due to the shape of a comet, whose tail gives it a streamlined appearance. Few people realize that the tail is not aligned with the direction of motion as is a jet airplane’s contrail, but is instead caused by the pressure of the solar wind, so it always points away from the Sun no matter which way the comet is moving.

Procedures/Instructional Strategy:

1.       Review the simulation instructions with students

2.       Be familiar with the misconceptions about meteors to ensure students do not mistake meteors for shooting stars.

3.       Be familiar with the misconceptions about comets.

4.       Lead a student discussion of the composition of meteors.  Be sure to include the difference between meteors and meteorites in your discussion.

5.       Watch the “Comet Debris – Meteor Shower Simulation”

6.       After watching the simulation, do the following:

·         Elicit students’ responses about the nature of meteor showers.

·         Ask students to explain why we see meteor showers.

·         Based on what they learned from the simulation, ask students to explain why meteorites appear to be shooting stars.  Ask students to explain why meteorites ARE NOT shooting stars.

         7.  Watch the “Life of a Comet Simulation”

         8.  After watching the simulation, ask students to explain the following:

·         Where comets in our Solar System originate?

·         How the gravitational effect of the outer planets affects the orbit of comets?

·         Why we see a comet’s tail?

·         What happens when a comet gets close to the Sun?

9.  Tying it all together.  After watching both simulations, ask students to explain, in their journals, how a comets orbit contributes to the meteor showers we see on Earth.

10.  To organize ideas and information about comets and meteors, have students create a T-Chart graphic organizer.



Describe how a teacher can evaluate his/her students. The Learning Center is a good source for ideas.

Some examples:

·         Embed questions about misconception(s) within lesson

·         Have students complete the Comets and Meteors T-chart graphic organizer

·         Have students record ideas in science journals.

·         Have students draw graphs based on collected data

Differentiated instruction:

·         For students that are visually impaired, provide a verbal description of the simulations that students can listen to in lieu of watching the simulation

·         For students who may have trouble reading the descriptions (i.e. ELL, dyslexia, etc) provide a partner who can read the verbiage to the student during the simulation.


·         Use Page Keeley’s “Shooting Star” Formative assessment to elicit student understanding of meteors

·         Use the “Our Solar System Lithograph Set” to display pictures of the related vocabulary terms:

·         Discuss famous comets, such as Halley’s Comet, or plan a comet viewing party if the timing is correct.  NSTA Science Scope article “Scope on the Skies:  Convening With Comets” is a great resource for learning about comets.

·         The Science Scope article “It’s Raining Micrometeorites” is a hands-on lesson in which students discover and observe micrometeorites collected in rainwater.


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