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!
Copyright © (left) Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, (right) 2001 NASA and Wikipedia


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.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

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.

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What's the Problem?

This lesson introduces students to the Asteroid Impact unit and its engineering challenge: an asteroid is on course to impact the Earth and we must design the location and size of underground caverns to shelter the people from an uninhabitable Earth for one year. Students read the president's memo t...

Middle School Lesson

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Middle School Lesson
What's the Problem?

Students learn of the impending asteroid impact scenario, form teams and begin to study the situation in depth. A simple in-class simulation shows them the potential for destruction and disaster.

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Students learn and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of renewable and non-renewable energy sources. They also learn about our nation's electric power grid and what it means for a residential home to be "off the grid."

High School Lesson

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Use ratio reasoning to convert measurement units; manipulate and transform units appropriately when multiplying or dividing quantities. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, volume and surface area of two- and three-dimensional objects composed of triangles, quadrilaterals, polygons, cubes, and right prisms. (Grade 7) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Unit Schedule

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


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: June 6, 2017