So where were you when Philae landed on 67P? Well, many of our Rode Heath pupils were glued to the television, eager to watch history in the making.
And, what a week for science this has been as a result. It doesn’t matter that Philae has now shut down. What matters is that a washing machine-sized probe was even able to land on a comet, hurtling through space at 34,000 miles per hour and 300 million miles away from Earth.
In primary school, science is generally about carrying out experiments that we already know the answer to, but this was refreshingly different – no-one could predict what was actually going to happen. It was all about ambition; daring to do the seemingly impossible; stretching all boundaries and this is what we talked to the children about in our Wednesday morning assembly.
It also gave us the opportunity to wow them with a bit of magic, as we demonstrated how to make a comet using dry ice. The children were mesmerised, as Mrs Ross, wearing her white coat, protective gloves and glasses, squeezed the mixture together, causing wafts of sublimating dry ice to spew forth from the reinforced plastic bag. They were equally intrigued by the ingredients, particularly the Tabasco sauce which represented the complex organic molecules found in comets and meteorites.
The resulting ‘dirty snowball’ caused a spontaneous round of applause. This was certainly exciting science and the children were eager to learn.
Back in the classroom, the learning continued with the Year 5s discovering more about where comets came from; what they consist of and why landing on one would be so significant – quite ambitious for 9 and 10 year olds, but very compelling. There are however plenty of excellent ESA resources to help with the understanding, therefore teaching is not really a problem.
As there was some dry ice left over, we went outside and used it to fire small pop bottle rockets into the sky – another opportunity to explore Newton’s third law of motion.
It was really interesting to feel the bottles, even after they had been launched into the air – they still felt really hard because of the pressure still remaining inside them.
On Thursday the children came in very excited, bursting to share the news they had been watching about Philae– the conversations were a delight to listen to, full of scientific vocabulary. We all wondered whether the little probe would survive the night.
The rest of the morning was spent looking at the huge numbers involved in space. The Year 5s found out distances of various celestial bodies from the Sun. This involved reading and then rounding very large numbers to the nearest million. We are going to use this data next week to look at orbits and how long it would take to travel to each of these bodies by various means of transport– obviously, the Kuiper belt and 67P were included in our research.
This coming week the excellent Sue Andrews from ESERO is visiting Rode Heath. The children will be working in groups to investigate Martian soil samples. I can’t wait . . . .