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Program Design, Development, and Quality

Where’s the Water? Hitch a Ride and Find Out!

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In the middle of a severe drought here in California, water is very much on our minds.

Kids probably know not to waste water, and maybe you have activities at your site to urge kids and their families to conserve. With 80% of California’s water used for agriculture, and more than half the U.S. fruit, nuts, and vegetables grown here, a drought in California is a nationwide concern.

Where does water come from anyway? Kids are taught the water cycle in elementary school – the cycle of rain and snow, runoff and collection, and evaporation back into the atmosphere. Satellites in Earth’s orbit monitor weather, oceans, ground water, and more to better understand the global water cycle.

You and your kids can participate in NASA’s Rain Gauge Design Challenge to come up with your own rain gauge design to measure a part of the water cycle. Or for the more passionate, you can set up a pre-made rain gauge kit at school or home, and send the measurements in to scientists who compare them with satellite observations.

Now for a really big question: how’d all that water get on Earth in the first place?

Scientists believe that comets – yes, comets – brought most of the water through collisions with Earth (and the other planets, too) in the earliest days of planetary formation, over four and a half billion years ago.

Comets stream in from the great reaches of our solar system, looping around the sun in long, odd orbits. When a comet gets close enough to the sun, tiny bits of dirt and ice spew off in a fantastical display we can sometimes see in the night sky as a tail.

Scientists are actively seeking clues from comets, the left-over remnants from those early days billions of years ago. Engineers have just landed a robot named Philea on a comet (delivered by the European Space Agency’s mothership Rosetta) to take a ride for 9 months while the comet is closest to the sun.

On the surface, Philea measures the spewing water, gas, and dust. It’s a bit like sitting in the middle of a bunch of fountains on a summer day, trying to figure out what’s actually shooting out of them, and still protecting yourself from getting wet.

Your kids can learn about comets through this fun hands-on, teamwork-based STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) activity from NASA, where youth learn the art and science of making a model of a comet, and check out cool comet facts through singing, rapping, or reading.

Professional artists have made a model of the nucleus of a comet, too, that they display in cities for people to enjoy, experience, and learn about comets.

This one, as tall as a person, was recently on display in New York City.

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Build your own comet model and help us celebrate Philae’s journey hitching a ride around the sun, and learn where much of our precious water comes from!

You can also learn more from these sites on the internet:

“Ambition the film” is a fun drama about water coming to earth, in a fictional futurist setting.

Follow the Rosetta mission and the Philae lander, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

More activities related to the solar system, for upper elementary afterschool programs, are available at JPL’s From Out-of-School to Outer Space website.

For breakfast I had fig yogurt, fresh berries, and a decaf latte.

Author Profile: @leslielowes

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