Teacher Resources: How Craters Are Formed
When solar system objects (meteoroids, comets, or asteroids) crash into planets, the energy of the impact creates a hole: a crater.
All of the bodies in the solar system have been bombarded throughout time, including Earth. When passing through Earth’s atmosphere, a fast-moving meteoroid compresses the air in front of it, heating up both the air and the meteoroid. This heat vaporizes small impactors before they reach the surface.
Larger meteoroids reach the Earth’s surface and can produce craters. The record of larger impact events has been altered or erased as a result of tectonic activity, erosion, and volcanism, which change the Earth geologically. But the solid surfaces of other planetary bodies retain an impact record, sometimes spanning more than 4 billion years!
Discovery Activity: From Above or Below?
The debate over the origin of the Barringer Meteor Crater focused on two possible causes: volcanism or an impact. How do planetary scientists studying craters on other planets differentiate between a volcanic or impact crater?
Teacher guide for the Above or Below activity
Teacher answer key for the Above or Below activity
Student data sheet for the Above or Below activity
Discovery Activity: Are Craters Always Round?
Most of the craters we have seen on Mars, Mercury and the Moon are round, but is that always the case? Students will conduct a controlled experiment to demonstrate whether the angle of impact affects the shape of the crater.
Teacher guide for the Are Craters Always Round? activity
Student data sheet for the Are Craters Always Round? activity
Discovery Activity: What If…
What if a different-sized meteorite traveling at a different velocity had crashed at the site of the Barringer Meteorite Crater? What would the resulting crater have looked like? How would the environmental effects have been different? This activity links students to the interactive Earth Impact Effects Program developed by Marcus, Melosh, and Collins at University of Arizona. Using the simulation, students will investigate how impact parameters effect the resulting crater and its environment.
Teacher guide for the What If… activity
Teacher answer key for the What If… activity, version A
Teacher answer key for the What If… activity, version B
Student data sheet for the What If… activity, version A
Student data sheet for the What If… activity, version B
Educational Standards Met
National Science Education
Science as Inquiry
- A1 All students should develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
- A1c Students develop descriptions, explanations, predictions and models using evidence
- A2 Students understand the process of scientific inquiry
Earth & Space Science
- D1 Land forms are a combination of constructive and destructive forces
- D2 Earth History is influenced by occasional catastrophes such as the impact of asteroids or comets
2061 Benchmarks for Science Literacy
The Physical Setting - Processes that shape the Earth
- 4C/M2a Some changes in the Earth’s surface are abrupt while other changes happen very slowly
- 4A/M4 Many chunks of rock orbit the Sun. Those that meet the earth glow and disintegrate from friction as they plunge through the atmosphere - and sometimes impact the ground.
- 9E/M6 An analogy has some likenesses to but also some differences from the real thing.
National Educational Technology Standards
Standard 1 - Creativity and Innovation
- Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
Standard 3 - Research and Information Fluency
- Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate and use information