Two Ways to Make a Comet

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We’re learning about comets this week in our Astronomy curriculum so I thought it would be fun to make some.  These are really two separate projects. Do one or the other, or both.

Project #1:  Make a model of a comet with a ball, garbage bag, streamers and glow sticks and have fun flying it around in space (i.e., the dark)!

Project #2:  Make a model of a comet with ice and sand to get a feel for what comets are really made out of.

1. Lay a garbage bag out and trace a large circle in the center.

What you’ll need:

  • garbage bag
  • scissors
  • plate or circular object
  • marker
  • ribbon, yarn or both
  • glow sticks (try the dollar store)
  • ball or other round object about the size of a baseball

2. Cut strips from the edge of the garbage bag to the edge of the circle to make the streaming tail of your comet.

3. Cut various lengths or ribbon and/or yarn to add more to your comet's tail.

4. Place ball in center of circle.

5. Tie a piece of ribbon or yarn tightly to secure the ball inside the garbage bag. Now you have a comet. Or a ghost with a pretty ribbon tied around it's neck. Either one. The important thing is, the kids will believe it is a comet and will be very excited about it.

6. Tie on the rest of your ribbons and yarn. If you use curling ribbon you can curl it to make more swirls, just like a real comet tail.

While the kids worked on this project, I read to them about comets from The Usborne Book of Astronomy and Space.

We learned about the nucleus of the comet, which is like a dirty, icy snowball, and the tail of the comet, which features swirls and twists of color as the comet’s gases burn up as it gets closer to the sun.

We also searched on the internet for “video of comet” and found a few things. Some were a bit lengthy but the important thing is that the kids got to see some video of actual comets.

We used the internet links in the Usborne book to learn even more about comets.

And when darkness came, we were ready to take them for a space flight. It was an amazingly warm night for February so we went out in the driveway to test them out.

7. Attach glow sticks. We used clear packing tape and taped them to the streamers. Lastly, snap the glow sticks so that they start glowing. Then you're ready to make them fly in the dark.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get any good pictures of them flying at night, all lit up. They just looked like blurs of light. But the kids had fun.

They were zinging them up and down the driveway for a while. This was also a good time to take note of the night sky. We are usually so busy getting everybody ready for bed and wrapping up our day, that we don’t often get to stand around outside and gaze up at the amazing night sky. I was glad we got to do this tonight. We spotted a gorgeous crescent moon, some constellations and even a planet, which we are pretty sure was Jupiter.

Then the kids went to bed with their new creations to enjoy the glow-in-the-dark comets until they drifted off to sleep.

Project #2:  Make a comet nucleus.

1. You'll need a bowl of crushed ice...

...some sand...

...gloves or mittens and a surface to work on.

2. Put some crushed ice and sand onto your work surface and mix it up. Add some water to fuse the ice together.

3. Scoop it into a bowl and pour some more water over top. Not much, just enough to fuse it all together. Then stick it in the freezer for a couple of hours.

4. Finally, remove from freezer, dip the bowl into a larger bowl of warm water to loosen it. Turn it upside down and your comet nucleus should pop right out.

Unless you have actual snow and dirty ice around that you can scoop up and play with, here is how you can make some to create a small version of a comet.

This was a great sensory activity for my kids, who range in age from 3 to nearly 8.  They spent a lot of time mixing and molding the ice and sand mixture into the bowls, touching the cold ice and the gritty sand.  We talked about how this was just a very tiny version compared to a real comet.

Next up in our astronomy studies:  The Stars.

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