What do craters on solid planets tell us about the history of the Solar System?

Learning Objectives

Students will make observations about the similarities and differences of the appearance of craters on different Solar System objects
Students will use authentic data to calculate crater densities on different Solar System objects
Students will use their derived cratering densities to estimate an age of a surface

Standards Addressed

3.3.6.B1 from grade 6 in the PA SAS — Compare and contrast the size, composition, and surface features of the planets that comprise the solar system as well as the objects orbiting them.

Preparation Time Needed

<1 hour

Class Time Required

2-3 hours

Activity Description

The purpose of this lesson is to see how astronomers use crater counts (more precisely, crater densities) to estimate the age of an object’s surface and how, from that, we can infer that impacts were very important in the early history of the Solar System

The images that students investigate are authentic data from a variety of NASA Solar System exploration missions, including the very recent DAWN and MESSENGER missions to the Asteroid Belt and Mercury, respectively.

The activity can be done very qualitatively by only doing part 1, however, if you would like to expand into having students measure and calculate crater densities, instructions are included as part 2 of this activity.