Curricular Unit: Adventure Engineering Challenge: 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 composed of eight activities, student teams are presented with the scenario that an asteroid will impact the Earth. In response, their engineering 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 habitable cavern size, 3) learn about map scales, 4) test rocks, 5) identify important and not-so-important rock properties for building underground caverns, and 6) choose and defend a final location and size for a survival cavern.
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. Following the steps of 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. And the final solution is communicated to others.

More Curriculum Like This

Incoming Asteroid! What's the Problem?

To kickoff the Adventure Engineering Asteroid Impact unit, 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. They look at maps and complete a worksheet an...

Ranking the Rocks for Desired Properties

Student teams assign importance factors called "desirability points" to the rock properties found in the previous activity in order to mathematically determine the overall best rocks for building caverns within. They compare rock properties to the desired engineering properties for designing and bui...

How Big? Necessary Area & Volume for Shelter

Student teams determine the size of the caverns needed to house the population of the state of Alabraska from the impending asteroid impact. They make measurements and calculate area and volume from individual bedroom size to classroom size to large enough to house all Alabraskans. They convert betw...

Statistical Analysis of Flexible Circuits

Students are introduced to the technology of flexible circuits, some applications and the photolithography fabrication process. They are challenged to determine if the fabrication process results in a change in the circuit dimensions since, as circuits get smaller and smaller (nano-circuits), this c...

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 hands-on activities. The unit takes 8-10 class periods (350-450 minutes) total. Conduct the activities in the following order:

  1. Incoming Asteroid! What's the Problem?
  2. How Big? Necessary Area & Volume for Shelter
  3. Using Map Scales to Figure Distances and Areas
  4. Identifying Possible Underground Cavern Locations
  5. Rocks, Rocks, Rocks: Test, Identify Properties & Classify
  6. Ranking the Rocks for Desired Properties
  7. Recommendations & Presentations: Drum Roll Please
  8. Building & Testing Model Underground Safety Caverns

Note: The Asteroid Impact Student Workbook contains worksheets for all 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: September 6, 2018