Question Sheet: A Smashing Display


Before reading:

  1. What is a comet? 
  2. What does a comet look like? Draw a picture of a comet.

During reading:

  1. What made Lucy McFadden’s Fourth of July especially exciting? 
  2. Why do comets have tails when they get close to the sun? 
  3. Explain what McFadden means when she says, “Comets give us a look back in

    time to the beginning of the solar system.” 

  4. How does learning about comets help scientists learn about Earth? 
  5. What happened when the probe from the Deep Impact spacecraft struck Comet

    Tempel 1? 

  6. From the collision, what did scientists expect to learn about comets? 
  7. In what ways did the probe’s impact affect Comet Tempel 1? How big were the


After reading:

  1. Why would it be important for scientists to do laboratory tests using model

    comets before actually crashing a probe into a comet? 

  2. When is Halley’s comet scheduled to return to Earth’s part of the solar

    system? See (Bill


  3. In what ways did ancient societies react to comets? What would make comets

    scary to some people? See “comets in history” at University). 

  4. The Deep Impact mission cost $333 million. Do you think it was worth spending so much money for a project to learn more about comets? Why or why not? 
  5. After firing off its probe toward Comet Tempel 1 and collecting data, the Deep Impact spacecraft was put into an energy-saving, “parking” orbit in the inner solar system so that it could be used for another mission. See (NASA). What sort of new mission would you like to see the spacecraft go on?


Halley’s comet is named after the scientist Edmond Halley. When and in what country did Halley live? Why was the comet named after him? At what important times in history has Halley’s comet appeared in the skies? See (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research) and’s_Comet(Wikipedia).


  1. Go to the library and find three books on comets. Take a look at what the books include and how they present the information. Which book did you like best? Explain why. 
  2. Take a look at some pictures of comets. For examples of comet images, see Write a poem that conveys how you might feel about seeing a comet in the sky. 
  3. The term “comet” comes from the Greek word “kometes,” which means long hair.

    Why might this be a suitable name for these objects?


At the time of the comet impact, it took 7.5 minutes for signals from the Deep Impact spacecraft to reach Earth. Given that the speed of light is 299,792.458 kilometers per second, how far away from Earth was the spacecraft?