Truckin’ Around the Solar System
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
Imagine for a minute strapping yourself into the cockpit of a high-powered rocket, preparing to take your class on a firsthand tour of our solar system. You've already told them about how Galileo discovered the mountains of the moon and Jupiter's four biggest moons, but wouldn't it be great to show it to them? Using the remote "eyes" of a number of different space probes, you can take your students "where no kid has gone before"!
Let's start with a close-up view of our nearest neighbor in space, the moon. Not only can you see the location of the Lunar Prospector, learn about its mission, and get the latest view of the moon from this busy little probe, you can find the most up-to-date information on its search for ice. Ice is nice because where you have ice, you have water, the key ingredient for setting up a permanent base on the moon. While they are on the moon, your students can take a look at the surface. How did those craters get there? Can your students tell the old ones from the new?
From the moon, it's just a short 77-million kilometer flight to Mars. Have kids take a look at the Current Position of Earth and Mars to see how we line up. How can a space probe get to the red planet from Earth when Mars is on the other side of the Sun? The answer is to fly it in a circle! Launched in 1996, the Mars Global Surveyor probe is currently orbiting the planet and sending back spectacular close-up images. It's great to compare the surface of Mars with that of the moon. How are they different? How are they the same?
From Mars, we have to cross the asteroid belt and while we're in the neighborhood, let's check out Gaspra. Only about 20 kilometers long, Gaspra is a relatively small asteroid, but if it ever hit the Earth, we would be in for quite a wallop! Here students can consider: How does the surface of Gaspra compare with the Moon and Mars?
The Galileo space probe took pictures of both Gaspra and the asteroid Ida on its way to Jupiter. Along the way, it also took some interesting images of the Surface of Io, Jupiter's fourth largest moon. Discovered by Galileo back in 1610, Io is like no other body in the solar system because it is continuously being resurfaced by active volcanoes. Compare the surface of Io to that of the Moon and Mars and see if your students can find any recent flows.
Now it's off to the big guy himself. Jupiter is truly the king of all planets, almost 1,000 times wider than Earth. It's hard to know what's going on at the surface of Jupiter because of its very thick atmosphere. Storms and clouds are commonplace — and the Great Red Spot is really a giant Jovian hurricane three times the size of our planet! How does it compare to photos of hurricanes you might have seen here on Earth?
The last planet on our tour is Saturn, the ringed beauty of the solar system. Back on October 15, 1997, the Cassini probe was launched on a six-year journey to Saturn. So, Where is Cassini Now? Your kids can check the Web site to keep tabs on this latest mission to a distant planet.