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From National Science Education Standards: Earth's history
The surface of the moon is full of jagged craters. This rough surface comes from millions of years of collisions with rocks—called meteors—that crash into its surface. Why doesn't Earth's surface look like that?
Earth's surface does have some evidence of meteorites, such as the massive Meteor Crater site in Arizona. That crater is about 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) across and about 570 feet (174 meters) deep. So does that mean that was the size and shape of the meteor that crashed there? Nope! It was much smaller than that. With this fun activity, you can use small snacks to study this striking feature of Earth's—and the moon's—surface.
When you watch a meteor shower, most of the streaks of light (or "shooting stars") that you see are actually small rocks burning up in Earth's atmosphere. Most of them don't reach the ground, but those that do are called "meteorites." These rocks are traveling so fast (thousands of miles per hour) that they hit the ground with an amazing amount of force. That force is usually enough to move a lot more dirt than the size of the meteorite itself: the crater.
The meteorite that created the 4,000-foot-wide Meteor Crater in Arizona was probably only about 164 feet (50 meters) in diameter (really big for a rock falling from outer space, but still only a fraction of the size of the crater it created). Scientists estimate that this impact event occurred about 50,000 years ago—long before there were humans living in the area. The moon has a lot more visible impact craters because it doesn't have an atmosphere to burn up smaller incoming rocks. The moon also does not have liquid water or an active crust (with volcanoes and other forces) to alter the surface and remove evidence of past impacts. These agents helped to smooth out many of the meteorite craters here on Earth in the billions of years since the planet formed.
• Large shallow pan or tray with edges
• Dry pudding mix, dry drink mix or cocoa powder or another powder that is a different color
• Roundish nuts, seeds and/or small fruits (such as raisins, almonds, peanut halves, cherries, and so on)
• Sifter or sieve
• Fill the large pan or tray with an inch or two of flour.
• Cover that layer with a dusting of the second, different-colored powder using a sifter. This layer will be like the top level of "dirt" on the surface.
• Assemble your collection of mini "meteors."
• Hold one of your mini meteors a couple feet above the flour tray. When the meteor falls, what do you think it will do to the surface?
• Drop the meteor (when it hits the surface, it becomes a meteorite). What happened?
• What happens when the meteor falls faster? Try dropping it from a higher point—or carefully throwing it downward toward the flour surface.
• Now try different sized and shaped meteors. How are their craters different? How are they similar?
• What does the pattern of "dirt" around your craters look like?
Read on for observations, results and more resources.