Simulating asteroid rotation

This activity allows you to create the “rotation lightcurve” of an object, matching the approach that astronomers use when trying to determine the rotation rate of an asteroid.

The original version of this activity used a potato as the “asteroid”, so it is sometimes referred to as the “Rotato Experiment”!

Asteroid Itokawa resembles a large rubble pile, rather than being a solid piece of rock. The surface features will reflect different amounts of light as it rotates, causing it to appear brighter and fainter at different points in it’s rotation as viewed from Earth.

Exoplanet databases

There are many online data archives about exoplanets, so here we have gathered together some of the better ones. Most of these will provide you with up-to-date information on the current status of exoplanet discoveries, including new results from the NASA TESS mission.

NASA Exoplanet Archive: This is a very up-to-date and comprehensive data archive as you would expect from NASA. It is very detailed and not aimed at educational use, but provides access to a huge amount of data and data analysis tools.

“The NASA Exoplanet Archive is an online astronomical exoplanet catalog and data service that collects and serves public data that support the search for and characterization of extra-solar planets and their host stars.” (Wikipedia)

Level: High school (ages 16+); University

Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia: A European site, available in several other languages (including Arabic, Russian and Japanese). Easier to use than the NASA data archive, but still without any educational materials.

Level: High School; University

Open Exoplanet Catalogue: This catalogue does not seem to be updated as often as the previous ones, but the display is easier to understand, and the designers have set out to provide tools to allow users to work on data using their own code.

There is also an iPhone app version, and Python scripts to help analyse the data in the archive.

“The Open Exoplanet Catalogue is a catalogue of all discovered extra-solar planets. It is a new kind of astronomical database. It is decentralized and completely open. We welcome contributions and corrections from both professional astronomers and the general public.” (OEC website)

Level: High school; University

Exoplanet Transit Database: This site is invaluable if you want to observe transiting exoplanets as it can predict when known systems will undergo transit events and also help you fit the lightcurves. It contains a large archive of transit lightcurves, rated by quality.

” ETD is here to supply quickly and easily the list of all ever observed transits of transiting exoplanets to observers and researchers.

Our database administrators are periodically checking for new transits – both in literature and in on-line internet sources. Each transit is stored with complete citations, link to the paper / on-line source URL.”

Level: High school; university

The PHL Exoplanet catalog: Maintained by the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL), this database is unique in that it also includes information on astrobiological parameters.

” The PHL’s Exoplanets Catalog (PHL-EC) contains observed and modeled parameters for all currently confirmed exoplanets derived from the NASA Exoplanet Archive, including those potentially habitable. The main difference between PHL-EC and other exoplanets databases is that it contains estimated parameters, habitability assessments, and planetary classifications.”

Level: High school; University

Access online telescopes

Gain access to the Faulkes Telescope project, where teachers and students can access a global network of telescopes. Both live- and queue-based observations are available.

Choose what you want to observe and get your own pictures of planets, galaxies and nebulae.

Access to the Faulkes Telescope project is available for teachers and students in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Latvia through Online Observatory – do not miss out on this opportunity!

Impact calculator

This app allows you to simulate impacts on the Earth, Moon or Mars.

You can select the impactor parameters (composition, size, velocity, angle of impact) and then choose a target location. The crater that would be produced by your impactor is then displayed, along with various facts and figures about the impact.

You can compare your crater with real craters on each of the target bodies.