Making Comets for HPUniverse Day

What a fantastic time we had Friday night at the 2015 edition of HPUniverse Day.  Sponsored by High Point University’s Department of Physics, we open Congdon Hall, our science classrooms building, for adults and children of all ages,  Many science demonstrations and activities were provided, and this was my second year of “cooking” comets.

With the great assistance from Jamie, a former student, we selected a chef from the audience and guided her thru the process of mixing together elements of a comet.  This year I added an extra ingredient because the Philae spaceprobe on Comet 67p discovered significant amounts of methane.

We mixed water for the H2O, sand for the silicates, cola for the organics and glass cleaner for  theammonia.  So far, all good,  But the methane?  Methane is pretty abundant here on Earth, but it’s a challenge to store and carry.  I looked around and found a waste material that emits gasses, about 60% of which are methane.

A classroom full of kids and parents are ready to make a comet at HPUniverse Day 2015.
A classroom full of kids and parents are ready to make a comet at HPUniverse Day 2015.

So yes, I brought a bag of “poop” to HPUniverse Day this year.   I think the kids loved it, especially when I reached in with my bare hand to add it to the mix.

And no, there is no poop on comets.  There’s no glass cleaner on comets either.  But this poop represents the methane found around a comet.  And besides,it wasn’t raw poop; it was composted cow manure, just yukky enough to keep the attention of the kids.

We mixed it with 2 cups of dry ice, squeezed it together like making a snowball and voila!  There was our comet!

Actually we made 5 comets, because we had 5 shows.  I would estimate 40 to 50 adults and kids in each show.  Congratulations to Brad for another great community event, and thanks to all the kids who came out to see us last night.

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