Laws of Gravity: Bowling Balls & Teapots
In this interactive activity, students use Universe Sandbox to learn the basic properties of gravity and its role in accretion. Everyday objects of differing weights and sizes — such as bowling balls and teapots — are placed in space with no initial velocity, allowing students to observe the effects of accretion without other forces acting upon the system itself. By using objects students might encounter in their daily lives, the understanding that both everyday objects and celestial bodies are equally subject to the laws of gravity is fostered. Students make predictions and postulate about what would happen if certain properties in the system changed — for instance, “What do you think will happen if we change the mass of the teapot to that of the Earth?” By running through the scenario multiple times with altered properties, students form a working knowledge of how mass and distance between the objects in the system relate to gravity.
Saving the Earth
Finally, students apply their accumulated knowledge of accretion, velocity, gravity, and trajectory into a final challenge: adding a new planet to our solar system without disrupting its integrity. Through trial and error — recording their observations and making guesses at why their failed attempts did so — students gradually guide the flawed system into a stable state, articulating the reasons for its flaws with accurate STEM terminology.