Shared Learning Objectives

1998-99 Project

District: Whitehall Central School
School Reps: Marilyn Borden & John A. Mead
SLO Project: Visitors from Space! Searching for Micrometeorites.
Grade Level: Fifth Grade
Subject Area: Science
Authored by: John A. Mead
Home Page Address: www.neric.org/




Most students interests have been piqued by the recent movies of impending doom and gloom from space, such as "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon". The fact is that the Earth is under a constant bombardment of cosmic debris. The vast majority of these "visitors from space" are very small. These particles, not big enough to be called meteorites, are known as micrometeorites or interplanetary dust particles. Estimates of 50 to 100 tons of micrometeorites fall to the earth's surface each day.

Since most meteoric material contain traces of iron, a strong magnet can attract these particles. Not every piece of magnetic material is of an extraterrestrial origin. In fact, the majority of what the student will collect will be terrestrial in origin. The mineral magnetite is quite common and remains of iron artifacts, such as rusted pieces of tin cans, sheet metal and cars are even more prevalent. Make sure that you stress the point that their material MAY be meteoric. The only positive way to determine if the material is extraterrestrial, would be to have it analyzed at a laboratory facility.

A few samples or pictures of meteorites will help students identify their samples. Once the student gets an idea as to what meteorites look like, they can reduce the scale to micrometeorites. Most flat shaped metallic material originated from sheet metal (cans, cars, etc.) and shiny bright metallic pieces could be magnetite, but those pieces that are rounded, oxidized, looking somewhat like a larger specimen of a meteorite, well, you never know!

It is very easy to stimulate students into a discussion on this topic. It is even easier to get the students involved in a lab. It is not uncommon for students to go home after the lab and search the neighborhood, using a magnet from their refrigerator. Even with all the " maybe", "it could be" and "it's possible" answers you give to the students questions, it is hard to contain their excitement when they think that they found one, or two, or three...


The student will:

Time Required

The time required for this lab and discussion is 40 minutes.



  1. Have students collect soil samples from areas that increase the chances of finding micrometeorites. This can be done in advance by having students collect samples from home or by having the students collect it during the lab period.
  2. Using a magnet, have students search the soil for anything magnetic (stir up the soil).
  3. Remove the magnetic material from the magnet and place it on a piece of paper. Sort through the material and select likely looking micrometeorites. Examine the particles with the magnifying glass or microscope.
  4. Have students identify the particles. Remind the students that there are many terrestrial sources of iron, too.
  5. On an index card or glass slide, spread a thin layer of glue and while it is still wet, place the selected magnetic material on the glued card or slide. By using an index card or other card stock, the student may take home their findings.
  6. Have students present their findings. This can be oral, written, poster presentation, library research or any other form that you may want to cover.


This lab is easy to modify for most any grade level. The lab presented is geared for fifth grade, but I have used it in second, third and ninth grades. You may provide the soil sample if there are any students that can not provide one, perhaps, due to a handicap. For more advanced classes, enrichment classes or extra credit work, students could design a collection system (see areas).

Curriculum Standards referenced:


MST Standard #1 - Students will use mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry and engineering design, as appropriate, to pose questions, seek answers and develop solutions.

MST Standard #2 - Students will access, generate, process and transfer information using appropriate technologies.

MST Standard #4 - Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.


ELA Standard #1 - Students will read, write, listen and speak for information and understanding.

ELA Standard #3 - Students will read, write, listen and speak for critical analysis and evaluation.


LINKS to related sites.

Send questions, comments, etc. to John A. Mead (jamead@together.net)