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Planet Impact! is inspired by the crash of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into Jupiter. In this interactive online activity, students investigate how the gravitational force of a large solar system body, such as Jupiter, can affect the path of a smaller body, such as a comet. They will launch a comet to see how gravity can change its path. Students learn how changing the speed, the angle of approach, and/or the masses of large and small bodies affect the force of gravity on a comet. They are then challenged to use this knowledge to crash their own comets into Jupiter or to make their comets fly past the planet without colliding with it.

Planet Impact! can be used to help students understand the force of gravity through animations that demonstrate how the path of a body changes as it approaches a target. The factors that may affect that path include the speed, the angle from which it is launched, the mass of the body, and the mass of the target. Students can also learn about how to set up controlled experiments since one variable is changed while the other three are held constant in each of the experimental modules.

  • Quick laboratory facts:
    • Science subject: Astronomy
    • Offered by: Formal Education Group of the Space Telescope Science Institute's Office of Public Outreach
    • Language of the interface: English
    • Registration needed: NO
    • Recommended because: Good interface, richness of content.
    • Additional software needed: Macromedia's Shockwave and Flash plugins.
    • Notes: Targeted grade is 5-8, but the material can be adapted for use in other grades at the teacher's discretion.
  • Guides and material for teachers:


Activities Activities

How does Gravity Work?
Students will observe the possible motion of a comet near the Jupiter and the Earth with the animation "Planet Impact" and investigate the effects of gravity on a comet's trajectory by changing the angle of approach, the speed, and the mass of large and small bodies. In the assessment activities, students will use their knowledge to crash a comet into Jupiter or make a comet fly past the planet without colliding with it.

UniSchooLabS is funded with support from the European Commission.
This document reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.