Asteroid Impact

From - contributed by Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines.
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


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5 Great Integration

I love how this hit so many standards in different core areas.


The president has sent out a memo to engineers in the state of “Alabraska”—your help is needed to save the human population from an asteroid impact! This lesson plan is the first in a series of 8 developed at the Colorado School of Mines. In this introductory lesson, students are introduced to a storyline, have to define the problem, and have to use some geology, engineering and mathematical reasoning to begin to solve the problem of developing underground living spaces to survive an asteroid impact.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In this lesson students have to consider some criteria and constraints including: the number of people, number of caverns, geological and geographic constraints, and size of the asteroid. Students are then tasked with determining what further information is needed. The missing piece for many of suggested questions in this lesson is “why.” Teachers should ask, “Why do you think that? Why is that the best solution? What evidence did you use to make that decision or recommendation?” Students will be more likely actually apply scientific and mathematical reasoning rather than guesses if they are asked to use this reasoning as evidence to back up their claims/solutions.

MS-ESS3-2 Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how some natural hazards, such as volcanic eruptions and severe weather, are preceded by phenomena that allow for reliable predictions, but others, such as earthquakes, occur suddenly and with no notice, and thus are not yet predictable. Examples of natural hazards can be taken from interior processes (such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions), surface processes (such as mass wasting and tsunamis), or severe weather events (such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods). Examples of data can include the locations, magnitudes, and frequencies of the natural hazards. Examples of technologies can be global (such as satellite systems to monitor hurricanes or forest fires) or local (such as building basements in tornado-prone regions or reservoirs to mitigate droughts).

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The links under Additional Multimedia Support provide additional information about the natural hazard and possible catastrophic nature of an asteroid impact. In this lesson, students are not explicitly given data to forecast these events, but the introductory lesson (particularly in combination with the additional 8 lessons) builds students understanding of asteroid impacts and includes data about them. Students use that information to develop a “technology” (underground cavern) to mitigate this disaster. Lessons could be modified to include looking at data on asteroid impacts in order to forecast the likelihood of major or minor impacts in a particular area. In order to show analytic thinking, the worksheet needs more space, so students should likely be answering questions in a notebook.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Before being given the worksheet, students should be asked to generate what criteria and constraints they believe would be important to consider in order to design the living spaces. This could be accomplished through brainstorming or researching in groups. The lesson mentions an optional activity where teachers demonstrate dropping various objects into flour or sand. This activity might lead students to generate additional questions and assist in further defining/understanding the problem.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The problem and design task is well laid out for students, including providing relevant information that would likely limit possible solutions (such as geology and geography). Students should assume that they have an unlimited budget and array of equipment available to them, though this is not explicitly stated in the beginning. As mentioned previously, students should be required to link explanations to scientific principles/reasoning.

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In this lesson, students investigate the effects of an asteroid impact on a population as a consequence of changes to the atmosphere and biosphere. The activity could be readily extended to include a discussion of timescales, noting the catastrophic and very quick impact of this event. It should be noted that Asteroid Impact stays at a fairly general level.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This activity addresses the challenges that occur in a constantly changing natural world, with some changes being catastrophic. Teachers could emphasize data on the relative frequencies of such catastrophic events occurring on earth. Teachers might wish to discuss the evidence of relative stability in earth’s systems, while also noting that events such as asteroid impacts may result in massive changes to this stability (resulting, for example, in mass extinctions). Further evidence of constantly changing earth systems can be found by comparing them to the moon’s topography and geology, as the moon clearly shows the lasting effects of impacts.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson strongly connects to ideas of catastrophes and human response to them, which explicitly connects to the Earth and Space Science and Engineering, Technology and Society disciplinary core ideas and performance expectations. Students investigate these ideas through the science and engineering practices, and while crosscutting concepts are not at all explicit, the questions that are suggested and that can be developed to understand this phenomena could clearly build toward crosscutting concepts.

  • Instructional Supports: There are helpful supports mainly through links to other sites for more information. Other types of supports such as rubrics or further assessment guidance would be useful here.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: In this first lesson student progress is monitored through groups sharing their work as a class and individuals completing the questions from a worksheet. There are no traditional type assessments, and there are no rubrics for student work or projects in this or later lessons in this unit. There are guiding questions for the teacher to ask students either in their groups or in their classroom sharing. More guidance would be useful for students to understand clear expectations for their work.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: While this lesson isn't meant to have technological interactivity, the creators provide links to two video clips. Teachers may also consider viewing a Google earth simulation that shows damage ranges from an asteroid or comet impact anywhere on the earth (you select the location): or