Space Science for Kids: Comets

Join us for Space Science for Kids via Zoom on November 2nd at 4pm. Registration is required – sign up here

A comet is an ancient ball of ice, rock, and dust left over from the formation of the solar system. Comets go around the sun like planets, and when they get close to the sun, some ice vaporizes, forming a tail that can provide a dazzling display.

Unfortunately, comets usually have very long orbital periods, which usually means people don’t get to see comets very often. But there’s a good chance that everyone will see a comet in their lifetime – Halley’s Comet – because it comes close to earth every 75-76 years. Halley’s Comet last visited earth in 1986, and it will return again in 40 years.

During our Space Science program, we’ll make a model of a comet. If you’d like to follow along with the experiment yourself, a caregiver should plan to be present to help. Here’s what each participant will need:

  • A small-medium mixing bowl that can stand up to being cold 
  • 3 cups crushed ice (not cubed)
  • 1 cup of water 
  • 1/2 cup of sand
  • A plastic garbage bag or grocery sack
  • 1 tablespoon ammonia (optional – has a strong smell, choose not to use if sensitive to this ingredient)
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup or cornstarch (whatever you have on hand) 
  • A pair of winter gloves or rubber gloves

Additional resources about Comets that you can get with your library card!

Book: Journey Around the Sun: The Story of Halley’s Comet

Book: Caroline’s Comets: A True Story by Emily Arnold McCully, about Caroline Herschel, the first woman to discover a comet.

Book: What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barret, about the life of Maria Mitchell, whose discovery of a comet paved the way for her to become America’s first female professional astronomer.

Streaming: Search comets on hoopla. You’ll find “Comets and Asteroids in Action” by Kevin Kurst, and “Chasing Comets, Asteroids and Mysterious Space Objects” by Nancy Dickmann.

~ Cathy Bakken, STEM Librarian