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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

Temperature - Kinetic Theory of Ideal Gases and Thermodynamics
In this exercise we will determine the relationship among pressure, volume and temperature of gases. We’ll deal with ideal, real, polar and nonpolar gases. We will learn the relationship between altitude in the atmosphere, pressure and temperature.

Introduction to particle physics
In this exercise students will learn about the different types of elementary particles and how they are detected by their orbits inside the Large Hadron Collider (Large Hadron Collider - LHC).

Conservation of momentum in particle collisions
Students will determine the total momentum from all particles tracked after a particle collision and will calculate (magnitude & direction) the missing momentum by applying two different methods of adding vectors.

Conservation of energy in circuits R and C
In this activity the lab visitor is taken step by step through the first things to do in the remote laboratory dealing with electric circuits.

Sour salts? The pH of salt solutions
By empirically testing neutralization reactions between different acids and alkalis in a virtual lab, students should find out why some of the resulting salt solutions have a pH other than 7 / neutral.

Moon's Craters
During this activity students will have a look in detail at images of the Moon to determine whether the density, size and appearance of craters vary across the lunar surface.

Is the Moon really larger when you see it on the horizon?
The purpose of this exploration is to design an experiment, using the telescope, to investigate the apparent size of the Moon when it is near the horizon, compared to when it is higher in the sky.

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.

Galaxy Classification and Formation
The following exercise aims to introduce the concept of varying galactic morphologies. Students will look in detail at images of numerous galaxies and you will attempt to classify them according to the Hubble Classification Scheme. Moreover, you  will try to investigate the origin of the shapes of the galaxies that stem from galaxy interactions.

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Measuring the Speed of Light
In this exercise we will operate a remote real laboratory of a University in Germany to collect data that will be used to measure the speed of light. Click here to access the activity

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.