Rochester Museum And Science Center

Comets, Meteors and Asteroids (Homeschool astronomy for ages 12 and older)

Comets, Meteors and Asteroids (Homeschool astronomy for ages 12-16)
Course #T888
Fall 2013

Six 90-minute sessions, all on Wednesdays from 9:30am to 11:00am
October 16, 23, 30; November 6, 13, 20

Instructors: Steve Fentress, Planetarium Director, and Paul Krupniski, Strasenburgh Planetarium school show presenter
Location: Strasenburgh Planetarium lobby and Star Theater
657 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607
Fee: $135, includes paper handouts and a 3-ring binder

"Comets, Meteors and Asteroids" is our fourth course for parents and students around 12 to 16 years old who want a course that offers substance and challenge and uses the unique capabilities of the Strasenburgh Planetarium!

Small objects in our solar system are finally getting the attention they deserve. Comet PAN-STARRS dazzled viewers in the southern hemisphere earlier this year. Comet ISON may make a once-in-a-lifetime impression when it passes near Earth in December (or it may fizzle!). Engineers and political leaders are discussing whether an asteroid should be the next destination for human space flight. And the awe-inspiring Chelyabinsk fireball of February 2013 reminded us that collisions with Earth can have serious consequences. This course offers students an introduction to the important world of small solar system objects.

How to enroll

Please phone (585) 697-1942 and ask for Course T888, “Comets, Meteors and Asteroids.” You'll need: child's first name, last name, age and birthdate; parents' name, address, parent’s e-mail and daytime phone, and payment information (credit card, check or cash accepted). Our primary way of communicating about the course will be by e-mail.

Course description

We will divide our time between activity tables in the Planetarium lobby (which will be reserved just for us) and the ideal indoor sky of the Star Theater. Topics and activities will include:

  • A modern view of the orbits of comets and asteroids (it's not just one asteroid belt anymore!)
  • Meteors and meteor showers: when to watch and what to watch for
  • Visualizing the orbits of comets in three dimensions to help understand where they will appear in our sky
  • Using simple math to understand how frequently Earth and other worlds are struck by objects from space
  • Using simple math and physics to estimate how large an object must be to survive passage through Earth's atmosphere
  • Using simple math and physics to estimate how much of a push an asteroid would need to cause it to miss Earth
  • Time under the Planetarium sky to learn fall and winter stars and constellations and to prepare to watch for Comet ISON

Enrollment expectations

Enrollment deadline 4pm Friday, October 11, 2013. Attendance at all six sessions is expected to gain maximum benefit from this course. Enrollment in previous homeschool courses at the Planetarium is *not* required. Minimum enrollment 12, maximum 25. If minimum is not reached by the deadline, the course may be cancelled with full refunds. No refunds or makeups for missed sessions unless it is RMSC's fault. Parents are welcome at all sessions and may work alongside their students or sit at the side, as they wish. Parents are responsible for administering all needed medications. Parents are responsible for arranging non-distracting alternate activities for siblings who come along but are not enrolled.

Mathematical skills expected

  • Multiply and divide numbers with digits to the right of the decimal point, either by hand or with a calculator or computer
  • Given a table of x and y values, plot a graph
  • Perform simple unit conversion calculations. For example: one light-year is about 6 trillion miles. The star Sirius is about 9 light years away. About how many miles away is Sirius?
  • Using a ruler, measure distances in millimeters, centimeters, or inches

To enroll, phone (585) 697-1942. For questions about content of the course, e-mail Planetarium Director Steve Fentress at