Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

11.2 Learning About Visitors from Space


11.2: Learning About Visitors From Space

Here are some basic definitions for four visitors from space:

Meteorite: a particle from space (rocky or metallic in composition, or both) that reaches the surface earth without totally burning up in the atmosphere. (While still in space, it‘s referred to as a meteor.) Cordelia Tomasino (Michigan) points to the NASA web site where you enter "Edible Rocks" to get a ready-made activity teaching kids about the characteristics of different sorts of meteorites using common candy bars.

Tektite: a glassy body that forms when a meteor or asteroid crashes into earth, melting rocks below it during an explosive impact and blasting them into the atmosphere or even outer space. On their return to earth, they cool and harden during their fall through the air into round, oblong, or pear-shaped glassy rocks often pock-marked with tiny pits.

Asteroid: celestial bodies larger than meteors but smaller than planets, most often found in our solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It‘s believed they represent debris formed from colliding planets or material that failed to form into planets during the creation of our solar system. They sometimes cross earth‘s orbit, and some are believed to have caused spectacular explosions, such as the one that may have exterminated the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Comet: a celestial body of ice, dust, and other compounds that circles the sun in a looping, eccentric orbit (as opposed to the more uniform circular orbits of planets). As its orbit nears the sun, particles burn off and form a long tail pointing away from the sun.

To help your kids learn more about these visitors from space, you might direct them to books like these and others:

Carman, Collecting Meteorites: Starting in Your Own Back Yard (1995), 78 pages. Although focused on Australia, this is a great, handy introduction for the beginner anywhere on earth.

McSween, Meteorites and Their Parent Planets, Second Edition (1999), 310 pages. Written by a past-president of the Meteoritical Society, this is a somewhat more technical book describing the nature of meteorites, where they come from, and how they get to Earth.

Norton, Rocks From Space: Meteorites and Meteorite Hunters, Second Edition (1998), 447 pages. This is considered one of the best all-round meteorite books for a general audience. It‘s a must on the shelf of anyone who gets seriously interested.

Smith, The Meteor Crater Story (1996), 79 pages. The story of one meteor crater near Winslow, Arizona, this book ends with a handy appendix listing known impact sites throughout the world.

Notkin, Meteorite Hunting: How to Find Treasures from Space (2011), 84 pages. Written by the host of the TV series Meteorite Men, this brief guide is filled with color photos and info written in accessible language.

Meteorite Times. A free monthly online magazine.