Christopher Strider Cook edited this page Jun 8, 2015 · 1 revision

Hacker Sparks Asteroids

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Sparks Throughlines

1. What kinds of ideas and projects catch my attention and make me excited to explore and learn? What concepts and skills would be valuable to me?

2. What steps do I need to take in order to take charge of my own learning?

3. How can I use the resources available to meet my goals?

4. How can I share what I learn with others?

5. How will mastery of a concept or a skill assist my goals?

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Badge Design Process


Identify goals


generate ideas










redesign (and repeat 4-7 as necessary)



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Badge Overview

(what is the intention of this badge? Why are we doing this? Why is it important?)

Asteroids are small rocky planet-like objects that are left over debris from the creation of the solar system. The creation of Jupiter was an especially turbulent time when any objects between Mars and Jupiter collided with each other and unable to reform.

Asteroids are vary in size from the 6m (20 feet) across 1991 BA to the 940km (583 mile) Ceres. Most asteroids are irregular in shape, although there are a few spherical exceptions such as Ceres. The average surface temperature of an asteroid is -100°F (-73°C). Asteroids are often pitted and cratered and haven’t changed much since the formation of the solar system.

Asteroids can be found just about anywhere in our solar system, however the majority of them orbit the sun in a band between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists estimate that the asteroid belt contains close to 750,000 objects that are at least 1 km in diameter, and at least two hundred of them are larger than 100 km in diameter. Additional asteroids can be found it two separate locations on Jupiters ecliptic. The orbit with Jupiter and maintain a balanced orbit unless something knocks them away. Much like planets, asteroids have elliptical orbits around the sun. Asteroids rotate and tumble erratically, occasionally orbiting other asteroids. Many large asteroids seem to have been captured by the gravity of a much more massive planet, and become moons, such as in the case of Mars’s moons Phobos and Deimos.

Asteroids have been a popular target for spacecraft since 1991, when Galileo took the first close-up pictures of an asteroid. Galileo later found the first moon orbiting an asteroid in 1994. NASA’s NEAR spacecraft spent a year orbiting the near-Earth asteroid, Eros, before scientists and engineers decided to attempt a landing on the asteroid before ending the program. When NEAR landed in 2001, it successfully became the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid. In 2006, Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft became the first to successfully land and take off from an asteroid. Hayabusa returned to Earth in 2010 with valuable rock samples. NASA sent the Dawn spacecraft, launched in 2007, to explore Vesta and Ceres. Having explored Vesta since 2011, it is scheduled to start exploring Ceres in 2015.

In February 2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor surprised the world with its massive fireball over Russia. The object was undetected prior to the fireball, mostly because its orbital trajectory was very close to the sun’s path which made it very hard to see. The Chelyabinsk meteor measured 20 meters in diameter and weighed close to 13,000 metric tonnes, making it the largest recorded object to enter the Earth’s atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event that destroyed a large Siberian forest. The low entry angle of the Chelyabinsk meteor caused it to explode just less than 30 km above the Earth’s surface, showering the area with tiny meteor fragments. The explosion caused a massive shock wave that damaged 7200 buildings and sent thousands of people seeking medical care, mostly from broken glass wounds. The atmosphere absorbed the majority of the meteors energy, which was equivalent to 500 kilotons of TNT or 20-30 times the energy released from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The results of a meteor of this size hitting the Earth would have been devastating, but still not an Earth-killer event. It is surprise events like the Chelyabinsk meteor that has made NASA and other international space organizations take such a keen interest in finding asteroids before they approach the Earth.

In June 2013, NASA announced a Grand Challenge focused on finding asteroid threats to Earth, and determining what to do about them. This Grand Challenge called both professional and citizen scientists to come together to find solutions to potentially killer asteroids.

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Badge Objectives

(what info needs to be acquired, retained, and applied for skill/concept mastery?)


Understand asteroid composition and behavior


Learn how to track and report asteroids


Learn about asteroid avoidance possibilities


Explore the possibility of asteroid colonization, space travel, and mining

'''Suggested Prerequisite Badges: Astronomy and Space Technology'''



Mentor Resources:

(websites, etc we have found helpful for supporting mentors in guiding this badge)

[ Dinosaur Extinction Impacts] - resource to explain how meteor impacts caused mass extinction

[ Sentinel Mission/ B612] - putting a telescope in deep space orbit to hunt asteroids capable of impact.

[ Planetary Resources] - well funded company putting telescopes in earth orbit to find profitable asteroids and eventually mine them

[ Deep Space Industries] - focused on prospecting, harvesting and processing asteroid resources.

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''Many of the links listed within the activities will also be useful to mentors.''



Lessons and Activities to support Sparks Badge Objectives:

Note: These are activities and resources meant to help facilitate the acquisition and retention of the skill or concept being mastered. They are not, however, mandatory. A dialogue between the Mentor and young hacker can result in a plan to meet the requirements of this badge with the child’s vision as the guide. That may include some or all of the activities below, or it may be designing a new project. The mentor will help to shape the plan so that the child can master the skills through what he or she deems valuable, while still ensuring a comprehensive education in this skill/concept. Keep in mind also that the younger children in Sparks may want or need more guidance, and that the activities listed may serve as a catalyst for the child to gain understanding, insight, and enthusiasm for the concept or skill. Often, beginning with guided activities and working towards a final project that is designed by the child is an effective way to introduce the design thinking process to our smallest makers.

====== Make your own Asteroid ======

Edible Asteroids

Shape and bake mashed potato asteroids

====== Asteroid Motion ======

Create a flipbook of Hubble Space Telescope images to view the tumbling motion of the asteroid Vesta.

====== Asteroid Mining ======

Asteroids are from the formation of the solar system they, so they are interesting because they teach us about the primordial planetary building blocks. Asteroids could be full of valuable minerals such as platinum and gold that companies could mine for profit. Asteroids could also contain mineable water that could be separated into its hydrogen and oxygen components to create rocket fuel. Learning to mine and process water in space is instrumental in the future of space travel since it allows spacecraft to refuel in space and extend their range.

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Mine an Edible Asteroid

The link contained includes a recipe to create an edible asteroid that can be carefully mined for resources, much like a real asteroid. Learn how to scientifically observe an object, take a core sample and make very detailed observation logs about your findings.

Activity 2:

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Identify A Meteorite

Rock samples can be bought online or touchable sets can often be borrowed from local museums. Try to determine if each of these samples are a meteorite using the following criteria.


Not a Meteorite

Dark on the outside. Meteorites have black

or rusty brown outer layer – a fusion crust -

formed when the meteoroid was heated as it

fell through Earth’s atmosphere.

Bubbly or with holes. If the rock outside looks bubbly or frothy, or if there are holes inside, it’s not a meteorite.

Round. Most meteorites are very irregular in

shape. They rarely are round or shaped like a projectile (bullet).

Finger pokes on the outside. Got

regmaglypts? Great word, yes? Meteorite

surfaces usually are smooth and don’t have

features. But some have regmaglypts; this just means deep circular pits in the surface of the meteorite. They look like someone has poked their finger in soft playdoh.

Quartz crystals. Quartz only occurs on Earth, because of our unique geologic processes. If you see quartz – or fossils – it is not a meteorite. If you see lots of other bright crystals, it also is probably not a meteorite.

HEAVY! Many meteorites have iron or nickel

in them, so they are relatively much heavier

(actually, more dense) than Earth rocks.

Color. If you can make a colored streak of

black or red on a piece of unglazed tile, it

probably is not a meteorite. Unless the

meteorite is very weathered, it will not leave a streak.

Shiny inside! Some meteorites are nearly all

iron and they have a silvery inside. Others

have small flecks of shiny metal on their


Magnetic! Most meteorites have some iron or nickel in them, so they attract a magnet easily.

Some Earth rocks are magnetic, too.

Little stoney balls inside. Most meteorites

are chondrites . They contain small balls of

stony material called chondrules that are about a millimeter (1/25 inch) across

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Explore Meteorite Craters

Learn to compare the craters left by different objects. What makes a crater deeper? Or wider?


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Comets vs. Asteroids

A comet is a relatively small solar system body that orbits the Sun. Like an asteroid it is a remnant of the solar system formation, however comets differ from asteroids because they contain a large amount of ice. When close enough to the Sun they display a visible coma (a fuzzy outline or atmosphere due to solar radiation) and sometimes a tail, as the ice melts and turns into a gas.

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Make a Comet out of craft materials

Materials Needed

-- Styrofoam balls (1 per student)

-- Popsicle sticks or plastic straws (1 per student)

-- Assortment of pompoms, cotton balls, packing "popcorn" or any other small material that can be glued to styrofoam balls

-- Pipe cleaners (at least 2 per student)

-- Tin foil

-- Pillow filling or big pieces of cotton that can be pulled apart

-- Clear plastic wrap or cellophane

-- Ribbon or any material that can be used as a tail

-- Craft glue

-- Clear tape



Insert straw or popsicle stick into Styrofoam ball. The ball is the comet nucleus, the stick is merely to hold the comet.


Nucleus: Comets have uneven shapes so glue pompons or other materials to the ball so it has an uneven look.


Comets are icy so glue or tape pieces of tin foil to the ball.


To make the coma, or comet cloud, glue or tape pillow filling, cellophane or plastic wrap around the decorated ball.


To create the dust tail and ion tail, push pipe cleaners into ball and/or tape ribbon onto outside of decorated ball.

For more details on the activity, go to

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Make a Comet out of dry ice (This should be a demo ONLY as dry ice is dangerous)

Materials Needed

-- 5 pounds dry ice, finely crushed

-- Insulated container to hold dry ice

-- Thick gloves to handle dry ice (check at online chemistry stores or hardware stores)

-- Goggles

-- Mallet to crush dry ice

-- Large plastic bowl

-- Towel or pillowcase (it will get very dirty)

-- Several large plastic garbage bags, 12 gallons or larger, heavy strength

-- Flat tray

-- 1 liter water

-- About 2 cups dirt (clean out twigs and little pebbles)

-- 1 tablespoon or less starch

-- 1 tablespoon or less dark corn syrup or soda

-- 1 tablespoon or less vinegar

-- 1 tablespoon or less rubbing alcohol

-- Hair dryer

-- Flashlight



Crushing the dry ice will take some time and can be done ahead of the demo. To prep the dry ice, put on thick gloves and place the dry ice in a towel or pillowcase. You can purchase dry ice in blocks or as inch-size granules. A 5-pound block will be almost intact after several hours. In either case, use the mallet to break the ice into small bits. You need to have at least 50 percent of your dry ice as a powder, which will make the water freeze and hold your comet together. Keep the dry ice in a cooler after you have crushed it. After crushing, store the dry ice back in your insulated container.


Once students arrive, explain that you will be making a model of a comet that will show jets coming from the comet model. Explain that they must stand a safe distance back since dry ice can cause injuries. Tiny pieces of dry ice will shoot out, especially when you crush it and while you add water. That is why you have goggles and gloves.


Line the bowl with a plastic bag.


Add to lined bowl 1 liter of water, dirt, starch, corn syrup or soda, vinegar and alcohol. As you do this, explain that comets have lots of ice and water. In our comet model, dirt represents the dust, minerals and water found in comets; starch helps hold the model together; the syrup or soda are organics and give the comet a dark appearance; vinegar represents amino acids in a comet and rubbing alcohol represents methanol found in comets. Do not add too much alcohol as it has an antifreeze effect.


Mix ingredients and stir in dry ice. Students will love this part since a murky white cloud puffs up as moisture in the air is being frozen out by the gas that is coming out of dry ice.


Once all the dry ice is in the bowl, pick up the sides of the bag and use them to form the mixture into a large clump. Add more water as needed. The mixture will start to thicken as the dry ice freezes the water. You can feel the clump forming through the plastic bag. If the mixture does not hold together, add more water. This part takes a bit of experience. However, you may get lucky on the first try. You will certainly have a good feel for the proportion of ice-to-water on the third try.


Once you see you have a clump, take it out of the bag and show it to students. You should see gas jets coming off the comet. If your model falls apart, it’s okay. Comets frequently disintegrate as they come closer to the sun!


For added effect, have students take turns holding the flashlight and hair dryer close together and pointing at the comet. The flashlight represents the sun and the dryer is the solar wind. You should see the jets moving away as the heat from the dryer pushes the gas away.


To clean up, place your comet in a sink and let it melt.

Additional Resources:

(any other resources that may be related to the badge skill, but not essential to the objectives)

[ NASA Asteroids Overview]

[ NASA Asteroid and Comet Watch]

[ NASA Near Earth Object Program]

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How can I share my knowledge with others? Did I document my project through notes and/or photos? Did I find an activity or resource that was particularly interesting or helpful?

Mentors will help our Curiosity Hackers finish their badge by sharing the above on our wiki in the appropriate badge section.


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