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Curricular Unit: Asteroid Impact

Contributed by: Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines
Two images: A map showing the cities, infrastructure, rock composition and geologic features of the state of Alabraska. An artists' rending shows an asteroid entering the Earth's atmosphere.
The collision between Earth and an asteroid a few kilometers in diameter would release as much energy as the simultaneous detonation of several million nuclear bombs. Engineers to the rescue!


Through this earth science curricular unit, student teams are presented with the scenario that an asteroid will impact the Earth. In response, their challenge is to design the location and size of underground caverns to shelter the people from an uninhabitable Earth for one year. Driven by this adventure scenario, student teams 1) explore general and geological maps of their fictional state called Alabraska, 2) determine the area of their classroom to help determine the necessary cavern size, 3) learn about map scales, 4) test rocks, 5) identify important and not-so-important rock properties for underground caverns, and 6) choose a final location and size.

Engineering Connection

Engineering design

The Asteroid Impact unit provides a project framework in which student groups act as engineering teams to design underground caverns, following the steps of the engineering design process. Real-world engineers work in teams to invent and develop solutions to problems. Using the engineering design process, they first identify and define the problem or challenge. They gather pertinent information and conduct research to learn about topics related to the problem, and they brainstorm and propose multiple potential solutions. Engineers then evaluate the various possible solutions and select one that best meets the criteria for success. Testing is often used to verify that the proposed solution will solve the problem or challenge.

Grade: 7 (6-8)

Time Required: 400 minutes

Keywords: asteroid, asteroid impact, cavern, catastrophe, collision, disaster planning, Earth-bound asteroid, engineering, hazard, impact asteroid, rock, shelter, underground

Related Subject Areas

Related Lessons

Unit Schedule (Return to Contents)

This unit is composed of eight lessons, each with its own hands-on activity. The unit takes 8-10 class periods (350-450 minutes) total. Conduct the lessons and activities in the following order:
  • Lesson 1 and activity: What's the Problem?
  • Lesson 2 and activity: How Big?
  • Lesson 3 and activity: Scaling the Map
  • Lesson 4 and activity: Possible Locations
  • Lesson 5 and activity: Rocks, Rocks, Rocks
  • Lesson 6 and activity: Ranking the Rocks
  • Lesson 7 and activity: Drum Roll Please
  • Lesson 8 and activity: Testing the Caverns
Note: The attached Asteroid Impact Student Workbook contains worksheets for all lessons and activities in this unit in one pdf file; the same worksheets are also available as individual attachments in each lesson and activity.


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

Supporting Program

Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

Acknowledgements (Return to Contents)

Adventure Engineering was supported by National Science Foundation grant nos. DUE 9950660 and GK-12 0086457. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Last Modified: October 1, 2014
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