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Asteroid Impact!

Asteroid hits ocean resize

Lesson courtesy of by Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines.


Students learn about the engineering design process, geology, and space science by designing an underground cavern that can shelter people for one year after an asteroid hits Earth.

In this first of eight activities, students learn about the impending asteroid strike, form teams, and begin to study the disaster scenarios and potential solutions by doing an in-class simulation and looking at maps. Click HERE to access TeachEngineering’s full Asteroid Impact unit.

Grade level: 6 – 8

Time: 8-10 class periods to conduct all eight activities, 45 minutes for this introduction to the unit.

Engineering Connection

Real-world engineers work in teams to invent and develop solutions to problems. Using the engineering design process, they first identify and define the problem or challenge. They gather relevant information, conduct research, brainstorm and propose multiple potential solutions, and select one that best meets the criteria for success.

This first activity introduces the design process. Engineering teams always begin by defining the problem. This process involves identifying, through group discussion and research, the technical, financial and social criteria for a successful design solution.

Learning Objectives

After doing this activity, students should be able to:

  • Read, understand, and identify a problem.
  • Hypothesize, through group discussion, what information might be needed to solve the problem.
  • Read basic features of a map, understand a legend or key, and use a map scale to determine distances.


International Technology and Engineering Educators Association

  • Brainstorming is a group problem-solving design process in which each person in the group presents his or her ideas in an open forum. [Grades 6 – 8]

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Earth and Human Activity MS-ESS3-2. Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.
  • Engineering Design MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • Engineering Design MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Common Core State Mathematics Standards

  • Solve real world problems involving division of unit fractions by non-zero whole numbers and division of whole numbers by unit fractions, e.g., by using visual fraction models and equations to represent the problem.
  • Develop a uniform probability model by assigning equal probability to all outcomes, and use the model to determine probabilities of events.

Watch footage from Feb. 2013 Russian meteor strike


The Challenge

Students are called by the President to design underground caverns to protect and save people from an impending asteroid impact. The motivation is provided in the President’s Memo.

What’s the Problem?

Students learn of the impending asteroid impact scenario, form teams, and begin to study the situation. A simulation shows them the potential for destruction and disaster. They look at maps and complete a worksheet and homework assignment to help them define and understand the problem.


  • Operation: Big Rock – Background “briefing” on asteroids, links, and other information for this unit from the Center for Really Fast Approaching Objects.

Handouts (pdf format):

(optional) video of asteroid impact
(optional) classroom demo of various balls (golf, bowling) dropped from heights into tubs of various materials (flour, sand)


  1. (optional) Grab students’ attention by showing them a video or simulation about asteroid impacts.
  2. (optional) Conduct a classroom demo that simulates the destruction caused by an asteroid impact. Drop golf ball into a bucket of flour, or a bowling ball into a tub of sand.
  3. Divide the class into teams of three or four students each.
  4. Encourage all students to get involved by assigning team roles, for example, a discussion leader, timekeeper for questions, and a scribe or recorder.
  5. Give students a few minutes to decide on names for their engineering teams.
  6. Read the President’s Memo to the class. (Alternatively, have a student read it to the class, or have each student read it to themselves. If the latter, provide a copy of the President’s Memo for each student.)
  7. Hand out the worksheet and two maps – general and geology – to each student. (Alternatively, you may want to hand out the entire student workbook, which is a PDF of all worksheets for the Asteroid Impact unit.)
  8. Give groups a defined amount of time to discuss and record answers to the worksheet questions.
  9. Come together as a class and have each team share their answers. This “idea sharing” helps get the class involved. TIP: Moderate this activity by having the teams report back after each question or at the end.
  10. (optional) As homework, assign students to each measure the dimensions (length, width, height) of his/her bedroom. Doing this makes the next lesson/activity go more smoothly.

Activity Extensions

  • Look up one of the Internet websites and write a report.
  • Construct a model of the solar system with an asteroid belt.
  • Write a paragraph about the importance of studying asteroids.


Asteroid Watch. NASA’s news about asteroids.

NASA’s Near Earth Objects Program. Information and animations on the 10,000 asteroids and comets that can pass near Earth. The 10,000th near-Earth object, asteroid 2013 MZ5, was first detected on the night of June 18, 2013, by the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope.

NASA’s Asteroid Initiative. NASA announcement of asteroid grand challenge. [YouTube 1:58]

Killer Asteroids Play a physics-based asteroid game, gauge the odds of a giant asteroid striking earth (artists’ renditions are highly unlikely),  learn about how backyard astronomers are contributing to asteroid research, or hit any spot in the world with an asteroid using a Google Earth Impact simulation on  the Space Science Institute’s NASA and NSF-funded site.

Great Balls of Fire! The Space Science Institute’s traveling exhibition about asteroids includes classroom activities and resources for teachers.

Russia Meteor Impact. Discovery Science HD video of February 13, 2013 fireball that killed hundreds in the Ural mountains. [YouTube 47:13]

Large Asteroid Impact Simulation. Discovery Channel’s Miracle Planet episode on the global conflagration that would be touched off by a Japan-sized space rock smashing into the Pacific. Note: Watch before showing, because survival even in a submarine in the deepest ocean would be impossible. [YouTube 09:59] or shorter version, without soundtrack [YouTube 4:40]

Asteroid Hits Earth! How the Doomsday Scenario Would Play Out. Time magazine explanatory article and embedded video from February, 2013.

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