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In July 1994 twenty-one fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed violently into the planet Jupiter. Astronomers, both professional and amateur, prepared for the event for months in advance, and the data gathered from the impact continues to be analyzed. The following Unit plan outlines a guided research activity in which your students can use the Internet to learn about the Shoemaker-Levy 9 event. Astronomy and space exploration are topics about which there is an enormous amount of information available on the Internet. As your students work through this activity, they will be introduced to a few of these resources and gain a starting point for future research.
As a result of completing this unit, students will be able to...
At the start of the unit, you can tap into students' prior knowledge by asking them what they know about comets in general, about the planet Jupiter, and about the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet. (The site Background Material for Science Teachers provides a lot of useful information.) Ask students what else they would like to learn about Jupiter and Shoemaker-Levy 9 as they work on the Internet activity.
As part of your background building, you might also make sure that students are familiar with the following terms and acronyms having to do with space exploration and the Internet:
Click here to go to the Student Activities about Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. The text on the activity page is directed at students, so you can send them to the page and let them start exploring on their own.
Often the ingenious methods by which astronomers collect and interpret their data are as fascinating as what their work tells us about the nature of the universe. Interested students can research the methods of astronomy and report their findings to the rest of the class. Specific topics they could focus on include:
One excellent book that gives an overview of recent knowledge about the solar system and how people have acquired it is The New Solar System, edited by J. Kelly Beatty and Andrew Chaikin (Cambridge, MA: Sky Publishing Corporation, 1990). Some of the information in the book is highly technical, but students who are enthusiastic about the topic will find a wealth of fascinating facts.
How is Jupiter different from Neptune, and what characteristics are shared by these two "gas giants"? What makes a planet different from an asteroid or from a star? Why did scientists once think that Venus and Earth were "twin planets," and what differences did they discover between the two? Challenge students to select two celestial objects (or types of celestial objects) for a detailed comparison and contrast. They can use the Web page The Nine Planets as a starting point for finding a topic and collecting data. Encourage them to use a range of resources, including the Internet, books, magazine articles, and documentaries on videotape. They can present the results of their research in a classroom display.
At the close of the unit, you may wish to bring the whole class together for a wrap-up discussion. The following questions can serve as a guide for the discussion.
The Answer Key contains answers to all student activities.
Return to the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 Page.