Layers of the Earth: A Classroom Activity

Photo by NASA

Photo by NASA

From the core to the crust, the Earth is a pretty big deal. It has a diameter of about 6,400 km, and it is made of various layers that help change the surface of the earth. These layers are defined by either what they are made of or how they move. When we look at the chemical composition of each layer, we are defining them as compositional layers. The compositional layers are the crust, the mantle and the core. When we look at the mechanical properties of the layers, we are defining them as the mechanical layers. The five mechanical layers are the lithosphere, the asthenosphere, the mesosphere, the inner core and the outer core. Although we only see the outermost layer of the earth, we have learned a lot about the layers underneath by looking at seismic waves and various rocks at the surface. 

The three compositional layers of the earth are defined by significant changes in chemical composition. The outermost layer is the crust. It is the thinnest layer making up only about 1 percent of the earth. The crust is mostly made of elements like silicon (Si), aluminum (Al), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), oxygen (O), sodium (Na) and minerals made of these elements. The crust can be subdivided into two types – oceanic crust and continental crust. Oceanic crust tends to be thinner (approx. 5-10km thick) than continental crust and younger too! Continental crust is on average 30 km thick, and contains the oldest rocks and minerals. Both types of crust cover the entire outer portion of the earth. Below the crust lies the mantle (approximately 2,890 km thick.) The mantle is made of silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) like the crust, but it also contains large amounts of iron (Fe) and magnesium (Mg). The final compositional layer of the earth is the core (approx.3,480 km thick). The core is made of iron (Fe) and nickel (Ni). It is under intense pressure and high temperatures, and it is the densest layer of the earth. Although these layers may share common elements, the contents differ enough to create the distinct layers.

The five mechanical layers of the earth are defined by how the layers move. The layers can be described as rigid, plastic or liquid in consistency. The outermost mechanical layer is the lithosphere. The lithosphere is rigid, and it includes the crust and the uppermost part of the mantle. The lithosphere is divided into the tectonic plates, areas of continental crust and/or oceanic crust that move and shift over time. The tectonic plates of the lithosphere move and shift on the plastic layer called the asthenosphere. The asthenosphere is under more pressure than the lithosphere and has a higher temperature. It is considered plastic because the rock has the ability to flow more than a rigid layer, but not as easily as a liquid layer.  The rock in the asthenosphere could melt if exposed to the surface, but it is under extreme pressure causing it to flow like a plastic. The mesosphere is the layer below the asthenosphere. The mesosphere is hotter than the asthenosphere, but it is rigid because it is experiencing more pressure than the layers above. The last mechanical layers of the earth are found in the core. The core is split into the outer core and the inner core because the two layers differ in rigidity. The outer core is liquid iron (Fe) and nickel (Ni). The flow of the outer core creates and sustains the earth’s magnetic field. Unlike the outer core, the inner core is solid. The inner core is made from mostly iron (Fe), but it can also contain nickel (Ni) and traces of precious elements like gold (Au). It is extremely hot, and under extreme pressure from the layers of the earth and atmosphere around it. All of these layers work together to make our dynamic earth!

Create a foldable Earth with the activity below to teach students about the various layers of the earth. To learn how the asthenosphere moves tectonic plates or learn about the natural disasters caused by that movement, check out our new Earth Science on Wheels topic Dynamic Earth!

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This project models two different ways to understand the layers of the earth. It addresses the compositional layers of the earth, and the mechanical layers of the earth.

Materials:

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Procedure:

  1. Pass out template to each student.
  2. Instruct students to cut out the Earth. Once they have cut the outside, tell them to cut along the dashed line that says “cut here.”
  3. Next, fold along the “Fold line.” Then, set the Earth aside.
  4. Now, tell students to cut out the quarter circle labeled A. This will represent the mechanical layers of the earth.
  5. Invite students to color each of the areas in the quarter circle a different color starting from the inside:
    1. Yellow – inner corre
    2. Orange – outer core
    3. Red – mesosphere
    4. Pink – asthenosphere
    5. Purple – lithospherecut and colored edit
  6. Have students set aside the mechanical layers (A.) for now
  7. Instruct students to cut out the second quarter circle (B.) from the template sheet. These will represent the compositional layers of the earth. Invite students to color each of the sections a different color:
    1. Yellow – core
    2. Red – mantle
    3. Brown – crust
  8. Have students set aside the compositional layers (B.) for now
  9. Instruct students to glue the earth, to the background paper. Remind them to not glue down the flap.
  10. Tell students to place the mechanical layers (A.) on the background paper underneath the flap and glue it to the paper.
  11. They should then take the quarter circle that represents the compositional layers (B.), and place it on the backside of the flap of the Earth. Then, carefully glue it to the back of the flap.
  12. Once completed, show students how to flip up the flap and see the mechanical layers on the background page and the compositional layers on the back of the flap. Students can add notes to the layers to help them learn what the layers do!

Kids Explore STEAM Careers with HMNS Outreach

Inspiring a child takes effort, time, passion and heart. It’s why we do what we do.

At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, discoveries are made daily. The sounds of learning fill our hallways every day, from the gasp of wonder from a kid stepping onto the Morian Overlook for the first time or the squeal of delight as a butterfly in the Cockrell Butterfly Center rests on a child’s shoulder. Those sounds are all the evidence we need to know we are upholding HMNS’ mission, its commitment to education.

For the kids that may not be able to get to the museum, there is HMNS Outreach. Our variety of programs brings HMNS straight to the community, visiting hundreds of schools and organizations each year and reaching more than 100,000 children in 2015 alone. The ultimate goal is to instill in these kids a love of learning that will carry them to new heights in their careers and throughout their lives.

Here are some of the many STEAM careers that HMNS Outreach can inspire a child to reach for.

Veterinarian

The TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels offers an extraordinary look at animals of all kinds. Students get an up close and personal encounter with wildlife ranging from snakes and frogs to birds and mammals.

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Students in Turner High School’s Vet Tech program observe the wing of a Ringneck Dove, which travels as part of the TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels Vertebrates program.

Forensic Scientist

A presentation of Cleanup Crew from the Bugs On Wheels program will cover the process of decomposition and the return of vital elements to the Earth. These principles of decomposition are crucial to forensic scientists, who use arthropods and fungi to study crime scenes and gather more information.

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Entomologist Erin Mills shows off a Giant African Millipede during a presentation of the Bugs On Wheels program Cleanup Crew.

Physician

Body Works is our newest set of programs in the Science Start family, and these presentations focus on the anatomy and capabilities of the human body. From the brain to the heart to the skeleton, each of these presentations will provide students with a comprehensive overview of what we can do with what we’ve got.

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Geologist

A Chevron Earth Science On Wheels program like Know Your Rocks is immensely useful for future careers in Geology. A students’ knowledge of the rock cycle and the differences between different types of rocks and fuels can be vital in fields such as the energy industry.

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A student discusses the properties of two different specimens with his classmates during a presentation of Know Your Rocks.

Astronomer

A visit from the HMNS Discovery Dome includes more than 40 different shows about a range of topics, including a classic planetarium show, The Starry Night. One of today’s kids could discover a new planet, a galaxy, or even a black hole, and the Dome provides a great foundation for an interest in astronomy.

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Students at Reagan High School file into the Discovery Dome for a screening of Cosmic Collisions, a show narrated by Robert Redford about different outer space encounters between celestial objects.

Anthropologist

An interest in foreign cultures can take you all over the world or even back in time. Anthropologists study the history of humanity, and Docents To Go programs such as Native Americans or Ancient Egypt provide students with an introduction to different communities and societies.

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Volunteer Bob Joyce shows an arrowhead and arrow used for hunting by Native Americans.

Chemist

Try a ConocoPhillips Science On Stage program like Cool Chemistry, which discusses different chemical reactions as well as the properties of polymers and liquid nitrogen. It’s a great glimpse into what chemistry is all about!

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Educator Carolyn Leap discusses the properties of a polymer during a presentation of Cool Chemistry.

Artist

Students at Johnston Middle School have had the opportunity to sketch animals from the museum’s TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels and Bugs On Wheels programs over the years, and they’ve produced some spectacular pieces, like the crocodile skull below.

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These are just a few of the many STEAM careers that are natural extensions of the concepts discussed in HMNS Outreach. We are proud to play an important role in the lives of students all over the Houston area and beyond, and we are honored to have the opportunity to inspire the next generation.

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A student draws Peanut, a Costa Rican Curly Hair Tarantula, as Peanut cooperatively sits still.

To book HMNS Outreach, email outreach@hmns.org, call us at the number listed on our site, or fill out this form online. We look forward to working with you!

Ready, set, STEM! 2016 HMNS Outreach programs focus on physical fitness!

Get yourself in gear this summer with the Houston Museum of Natural Science and our Science Start Outreach programs! It’s never too early to register for these super fun educational activities.

Take the first steps to physical fitness by understanding how the human body works and how it compares to other animals with our brand new Body Works programs! There will be three different programs, each focusing on a different portion of the body: Movin’ and Shakin’, Pump It Up and Head Honcho.

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How do the different parts of your body work in coordination to throw a football? We’ll discuss human anatomy in Science Start: Body Works!

Any discussion of sports and fitness needs to include a lengthy section on the human body’s skeleton and muscles, and we’ll tackle those topics in Movin’ and Shakin’! The components of our endoskeleton give our body its shape and stability; it would be pretty tough to shoot some hoops without bones! The muscles, tendons and ligaments allow for efficient and calculated motion that lets humans do everything from riding a bike to kicking a ball.

We’ll explore differences between our arms and the appendages of other animals that have different purposes, like a bird’s wing or a whale’s flipper. We’ll discover how our muscles work together to make simple actions like smiling possible. And we’ll do it all with museum specimens and a museum educator leading the way!

Next, it’s important to understand how the body gets the energy it needs to keep going. Pump It Up takes a look at the heart, blood and kidneys and how they work together to keep the body running smoothly. The bloodstream is vital for exercise, as our red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, supplying cells in muscles with important resources to continue working properly. Of course, the blood won’t get very far without the pumping action of the heart, and the bloodstream would not be as effective without the filtering power of the kidneys.

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In Pump It Up, we’ll compare the human heart with that of an animal much smaller than us (a rat) and an animal much larger (a cow). We will take a look at the rainbow of different colors of blood represented by various animals around the world as well as how human kidneys keep our blood pure. We’ll certainly get your heart racing!

Of course, to complete an action as complex as throwing a curveball, there has to be a manager, coordinating all of the motions to produce a consistent result. That’s the head honcho, so to speak, or the brain! The human brain has around 100 billion neurons, and many of those have hundreds of synapses (essentially connections between neurons). It’s estimated that there are over 100 trillion synapses in the human brain!

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In Head Honcho, we’ll compare our brain with animals of all kinds, from the ancient Tyrannosaurus rex to modern sharks. From there, we’ll look at the skulls and teeth of other animals and how we can figure out what that animal ate from what its teeth look like.

Each of these programs correlates to TEKS objectives and is perfect for young learners! Book now for these awesome programs, beginning June 1.

To schedule a presentation, contact us at outreach@hmns.org or (713) 639-4758!

Sports Science: Pitching!

We, as a nation, love applied physics. If anything, that’s all that sports are.

With the Houston Astros on the brink of advancing further in the 2015 Major League Baseball playoffs, take a look at this physics-based pitching preview of tonight’s American League Divisional Series Game 5 matchup between the Astros and the Kansas City Royals.

My baseball coach growing up was my friend’s dad, named Paul Mancillas. He loved to say that hitting was timing and that pitching was about disrupting that timing. He could not have been more correct. Baseball is a sport in which a fraction of a second can mean the difference between hitting a home run and swinging and missing a pitch.

The announced starter for the Astros is Collin McHugh, who was the winning pitcher in 19 games during the regular season as well as in Game 1 of this series in Kansas City. He relies on four types of pitches: a four-seam fastball, a curveball, a cutter, and a changeup.

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The grip for a four-seam fastball sets two fingers across the stitching, held horizontally. The grip launches the ball into a backspin, causing greater acceleration through the air. Photo by: Jason Schaefer.

McHugh throws his fastball at approximately 90 miles per hour. This means that the ball will travel the 60 feet, 6 inches from the pitcher’s mound to home plate in approximately 458 milliseconds! Astros hitters will have even less time to react; the Royals’ expected starter Johnny Cueto throws his fastball at around 93 mph, so it will reach home plate in about 444 milliseconds!

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An average MLB player can locate the moving baseball in about 140 milliseconds and swing his bat in approximately 150 milliseconds. So subtracting that away from the previous numbers, the batter has about 150 milliseconds to make the decision to swing or not swing at the pitch. Take too long to make the decision, and you swing too late and miss the pitch or foul it away to the opposite side.

But if a pitcher only throws fastballs at the same speed, he becomes too predictable, and a batter can easily time his swing to make good contact. That’s where the other pitches come in.

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A wider, more even grip across the stitching makes a changeup move more slowly. Photo by: Jason Schaefer.

A changeup is a pitch that looks like a fastball while moving but arrives at the plate much more slowly. McHugh and Cueto each throw a changeup at around 83 mph, which travels to home plate in approximately 497 milliseconds. A batter expecting a fastball would start his swing 50 milliseconds early and, instead of hitting the ball with the fattest part of the bat, miss the pitch completely.

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For a cutter or cut fastball, a slightly off-center grip causes the ball to curve right just before crossing the plate. Photo by: Jason Schaefer.

In addition to changes in speed, some pitchers rely on pitches that move horizontally or vertically. McHugh throws a cutter, or cut fastball, which has the speed of a fastball but moves horizontally right before it reaches home plate. A pitcher would hold the ball similarly to a fastball, but with a slightly off-center grip. Since a batter’s timing won’t be disrupted by a change in speed, this pitch is designed to create weaker contact with the ball. The barrel of the bat would be in one place while the ball would be in another, usually resulting in an easy-to-field ground ball.

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A curveball relies on a different grip and throwing technique to achieve changes in both movement and speed. Photo by: Jason Schaefer.

Combine movement with change in speed to get the deadly curveball. A great curveball has what’s called 12-to-6 motion, meaning that it dips straight down as if going from the 12:00 position on a clock to 6:00. This occurs because of the spin of the ball. The rotation of the ball causes the air around it to rotate as well. As the air is ejected on the upper side of the ball, the ball itself moves in the opposite direction, downwards. This is Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion in action!

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Proper curveball pitching technique calls for a sideways release of the ball. Photo by: Jason Schaefer.

In addition, many pitchers throw a curveball at least 10 mph slower than their fastball; McHugh actually throws his at around 74 mph, which reaches home plate in about 557 milliseconds, about 100 milliseconds slower than his fastball! The combination of reduced speed and change in direction makes hitting a curveball challenging for batters of all kinds.

The most important feature of the baseball to pitchers are the seams, those red stitches that hold the ball together. The stitches themselves create a disturbance in the air molecules around the ball, resulting in a clean pocket for the baseball to travel through with less resistance. This allows the ball to reach greater speeds.

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Want to see if you can hit a major league fastball? All you need is a ruler and a friend! Have your friend hold the ruler in the air, and position your finger and thumb around the 0 centimeter mark. Tell your friend to drop the ruler at some point without telling you when, and try to catch the ruler between your fingers. Note the position of your fingers on the ruler; if you caught the ruler in 11 centimeters or less, you have a reaction time of about 149.8 milliseconds, which would be just fast enough to hit a 90 mph pitch! Now you just have to work on swinging the bat in 150 milliseconds, too, and maybe you could be the next big thing on the 2016 Houston Astros!

Let’s go ‘stros!