Science students at Canton-Galva Middle School had an out-of-this-world experience this week.
Their instructor, Tim Blankenship, is one of a handful of teachers in the country who is certified to receive and use as a teaching tool rare samples of moon dust and rocks from NASA.
The samples come sealed in a thick clear plastic disc, so the students can view them under a microscope.
The samples are so valuable that they had to be locked in a bank safety deposit box at night when they were not in use.
Blankenship trained and was certified in 1997 at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Houston in order to receive the samples. Because the samples travel all over the country, Blankenship only gets the use of the moon samples every four to five years.
Viewing the samples was the culmination of a unit the students had been studying on the moon and space.
The students learned the moon surface is made up of materials similar to the earth’s. The dark areas of the moon are called the mare. They are made of basalt lava, which is heavy and sinks further into the moon’s crust.
The regions are like the earth’s ocean basins.
The light areas of the moon are called the highlands. They are made from materials like granites, which make up the earth’s continents.
Rock and dust examples of both the basalt and granite-like anorthosite from the moon were a part of the NASA sample students viewed.
In addition, the NASA sample included orange soil that came from fountain volcanoes on the moon. As materials from these volcanoes cooled, they formed tiny round glass particles.
Also in the NASA kit was a disc containing samples of meteorites. There are three types of meteorites: iron, stony, and iron/stony.
Meteorites come from asteroids from the rings of Saturn. The iron meteorites come from the material from the core of the asteroids. The stony asteroids come from the outer layer of the asteroids, which is much like the crust of the earth.
The rock-like stony meteorites are the most common, with the iron meteorites being more rare.
In the iron meteorites, you can see lines, which are called Widmanstätten patterns. These patterns are made when nickel-iron crystals form as the iron cools slowly.
To determine the difficulty in finding meteorite fragments on earth, students conducted an experiment. They put flour and colored rocks in balloons. They popped the balloons on different surfaces and tried to find all the fragments that had been contained in the balloons.
Page 2 of 2 - On pavement, the students found most of the rocks, but in the grass, the students found fairly few of the rocks, Blankenship said. He said this demonstrated why it was difficult to find meteorites that crash in forests.
Students also explored the distance between the planets by stepping off a representation of the solar system.
On Thursday, some of the students created models of the moon. They used clay and black paint to represent the highlands and mare. Marbles were used to indent craters in the surfaces of their models, and toothpick flags marked the sites on the moon where the Apollo missions had landed.
“We learned a lot about (the moon),” Lynly Bridwell, Canton-Galva seventh-grader said. “We learned about craters and how the moon’s surface looks. We learned about the moon’s gravity and how much you would weigh on the moon. You take your weight on earth and divide it by six and you get what you would weigh on the moon.”
Blankenship said he would like to thank Farmers State Bank for the donation of the use of the safety deposit box to store the NASA samples.