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Making Craters


The Apollo Lunar missions were an important part of man's exploration of space. In the future the Moon may be a very important base for exploration into deep space. The lessons included in the "curriculum" section are intended to help students explore the Lunar Module, Apollo Missions and the Moon.

Making Craters


To determine the factors affecting the physical features of the moon and that the craters on the Moon are impact craters.
To learn more about the terms associated with impact craters.
To understand that impact craters are also found on Earth.


The circular features so obvious on the Moon's surface are called impact craters. These were formed when meteorites smashed into the surface. Have students use the Introduction to Craters page to find out some basic information about craters.

Discuss the surface of the moon with students. Talk about the different features you might find on the moon like hills, craters, valleys and mountains.Bring out the fact that since the moon doesn't have any air or water, there is nothing to cause any erosion on the moon. When the students have had a chance to discuss the different geographical formations talk more about the craters. Have the children brainstorm ideas about how craters were formed. Someone will probably mention the meteorites crashing into the moon made the craters. Have the students hypothesize about how different sizes, different speeds and different dropping heights of meteorites would affect the size of the crater. Offer a demonstration of the experiment they will be doing.

Collect items such as marbles, ball bearings, golf balls, wooden craft balls, etc. These will be used as impactors and dropped from different heights onto a prepared "lunar surface." (The lunar surface for this activity will be flour, topped with a thin dusting of a colored material such as dry tempra paint.) Students can study the relationship of the mass (size of impactor) dropped from the same height to the size of the crater created. Dropping impactors from different heights will allow students to study the relationship of velocity of the impactor to the crater size.

Agree on methods to use to resurface the "lunar surface" when needed. Shaking or tilting pan back and forth produces a smooth surface. Be sure they know to reapply a fresh dusting of dry, colored tempera (or other similar material) on top after resurfacing.

The higher the drop height, the greater the velocity of the objects so a larger crater should be made and the ejecta will spread out farther. Have class compare and contrast their hypotheses on what things affect the appearance of craters and ejecta. (The factors affecting the appearance of impact craters and ejecta are the size and velocity of the impactor and the geology of the target surface.)

Materials Needed

• small round objects to drop
• all purpose flour
• dry tempera paint or powdered drink mixes or glitter (color is for contrast to flour base and is sifted on top of "lunar surface")
• plastic or aluminum pans at least 10" x12" and several inches deep. Larger pans work better and permit more drops before having to redo the surface.
• Sifter - used to place colored tempra on top which helps give more striking results to the impacts.
• newspaper or plastic trashbags to place under pans to catch spills
• meter stick to use for measuing drop height
• balance or scale to weight each impactor which will be dropped
• copies of student crater activity sheet
• copies of crater vocabulary
• Optional - Moon vocabulary

Extension Activities

• Have students explore what happens if they change the angle of impact?
(If the angle is changed, then the rays will be concentrated and longer in the direction of the impact.)

• Some people believe the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a global climate change due to a meterorite impact on Earth. Have students research the work that has been done at Chicxulub on the Yucatan coast of Mexico.
(Chicxulub is considered by most scientists as the source crater of the catastrophe that may have led to the extinction of the dinosuars at the end of the Cretaceous period. The Chicxulub crater is nearly a kilometer below the surface and was identified from magnetic and gravity data.)

• Have students research to find where craters found on the Earth.

(Some famous impact craters include Meteor Crater in Arizona, U.S.A.; Manicouagan in Quebec, Canada; Sudbury in Ontario, Canada; Ries Crater in Germany, Chicxulub in Mexico.)