Friday, March 10, 2006

My daughter's notes on the solar system

Tonight, I attended an AstroTalk about asteroids and Pan-STARRS by UH-Hilo Instructor John Hamilton and Pan-STARRS Student Intern Heather Kaluna. My daughter insisted on going, and wrote throughout much of the talk, periodically whispering things like "what comes after the M in materials?"

At the end, she handed Prof. Hamilton a piece of paper, and asked him if what she had written was correct... and he said it was! She'd written (a few spelling errors corrected):

Asteroids are pieces of rock that may have broken off of large planets. Comets are small balls of gas, ice and dust with tails of the same materials of the comet. And planets are very big pieces of rock or balls of gases. Tera Gr 1 age 6 3\10\06"

As a minor technical note, possibly breaking off large planets is more characteristic of what we think of as meteoroids (some impacts on Mars have knocked pieces of rock into space which later fell to Earth), but as Hamilton pointed out in the talk, "comet" and "asteroid" and "meteor" are all different, largely historical names for what we now know are basically all the same thing, depending on whether the chunk of rock does or doesn't have volatile gases around it, and whether it is or isn't burning up in our atmosphere at the moment.

With this latest triumph, my daughter is now firmly convinced that she's ready for freshman astronomy.

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