The Moon – it’s an amazing feature of the night’s sky. People have always found the Moon mysterious, marvelous, and magnificent. For our STEAM learning unit, this time it’s science in action – M is for Making Moon Craters.
In this activity, we simulated how the Moon’s surface became so pot marked over time. This activity makes quite a bit of mess, but is a lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, that I had a hard time getting my toddler to stop when we were done.
Play clay – either homemade, or store bought, although I recommend homemade because it will be covered in flour. (Covering store bought play clay in flour doesn’t normally end well for the clay.)
Several cups of white flour (or other powdery substance)
Several fist sized rocks that have been washed and dried.
Clear a flat surface and dust liberally with flour. This will help the clay to not stick to the surface. We used our kitchen table (but it’s scheduled to be refinished, so I’m not too careful about damage that might be done to the table during an experience.)
Roll the play clay out into a big circle. Our circle was about a foot wide in diameter. The clay acts as a cushion for the flour and holds the shape of the craters more strongly.
Coat the top of the play clay with about ½ inch (or more) of flour. The flour will simulate the fine dust found on the moon.
Begin by talking about how the Moon was formed.
The current theory is that the Moon came from the Earth after the Earth collided with another planetoid, which knocked a big chunk of Earth debris into orbit around the Earth. This group of debris coalesced into the Moon. For more detailed information check out this site: http://sservi.nasa.gov/articles/nasa-scientist-jen-heldmann-describes-how-the-earths-moon-was-formed
Explain that the Earth was large enough, and made of the right kind of material (meaning the iron core) so it formed an atmosphere, but the Moon did not. This atmosphere protects the Earth from most asteroids and meteors because it causes the falling bodies to heat up and melt down to smaller sized rocks. Because the Moon has no atmosphere, it is not protected from these falling bodies. That is why the surface of the Moon is covered in so many craters.
Now, pass out the cleaned, fist-sized stones. Explain to the children that the stones represent the meteoroids in space. Talk about how meteorites still come this direction, but that our atmosphere keeps them from causing much trouble. Explain that the Moon has no atmosphere so that when meteoroids and asteroids come in from deep space, they just make a crater.
Invite the children to throw the rocks at the flour covered play clay. Let them repeat throwing the rocks as much as is wise. Then have them stop and look at the surface of the “Moon”. I asked them what happened to our “Moon’s” surface and my fifth grader responded that we had created the “man in the moon.”
This was a very fun, hands on science activity. My children enjoyed throwing the rocks (of course). They were even more amazed at how the flour spread out and how the clay dented in to form caters.
Clean up wasn’t as terrible as it might seem. I used a hand broom and dustpan to collect the flour (after the clay was gathered up) and then a wet bar towel to wipe the table down.