Area students, parents get impactful astrophysics lesson


More than 20 elementary, middle and high school students from the area had an impactful experience at the December edition of Saturday Morning Astrophysics.

A monthly outreach event from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Dec. 12 meeting saw students measure the impacts of rocks after they were dropped into large bowls of sand, flour, water and dish soap. Using rulers, students measured the craters left from the rocks dropped at different distances. With the help of some parents, the “splash back” was measured from video shot on smart phones or tablets.

Led by Physics and Astronomy postdoc Matt Wiesner, small groups of students and parents got measurements from all four substances and compared the collected data. The sand bowls stayed fairly in tact while water, dish soap and flour splashed all over the several stations set up for the experiments.

The students also got to hold real meteorites from the department’s collection. The meteorites came in different sizes and substances. Some were almost metallic while others were more stone-like. Some were shards encased in plastic and others were deceptively heavy rocks.

Before the experiments, the students learned where the biggest impacts have been on Earth as well as the moon. They were also introduced to Purdue’s own Impact: Earth online simulator where users can create their own meteor; decide where on Earth it will crash land and what kind of devastation will be left in its wake.

Meteorite girl

A student examines a meteorite at the Dec. 12 Saturday Morning Astrophysics event.

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