We just played with snow in my house. We woke up this morning to find our ground
covered with a slushy first snow of the season. Although I resented the snow coming before Halloween, I brought some in the house in a large tupperware container and we played at the kitchen table. We broke it apart, cut it with butter knives, watched it melt in hot water, and watched hot water cut a large clump in half. I talked to them about solids and liquids, hot and cold–basic science concepts–while we played with it. The astronomy tie-in? Oh, yeah–they referred to the clumps of slushy ice as “comets!” (We watched a Universe episode on comets recently.) Comets have been called dirty snowballs because they are made out of dust and ices. For a more thorough kid-oriented explanation of comets and an animation of a comet shedding gases, see this page on kidsastronomy.com.
There are ways to “make a comet” as a demonstration for kids, but I don’t recommend doing it at home unless you know what you’re doing, research it thoroughly, and have proper safety gear. You need dry ice for it, and dry ice can be dangerous to touch without proper protection. Instead, there are some nice video demonstrations online that you can use, and maybe a science facility near you will have a “making a comet” demonstration during a public outreach event sometime. Until then, check out these videos: from Griffith Observatory; from an Indiana University Physics & Astronomy Open House (kids are making them here, so you can see how that goes); from The Universe season 3, episode 6, Amy Mainzer makes a comet.
Speaking of comets, there is potential for a dazzling comet in November 2013, although it could break up and be more of a dud than a dazzler. If Comet ISON lives up to its potential, it could be bright enough to be seen briefly in the daytime sky. That is still a year away. Just keep an eye on the news as we get near fall of next year.
And, no, you don’t have to have science and astronomy lessons to play with snow indoors. You can also just play with it and enjoy having fun with your kids on a snow day, like this mom did.
May your snow wait until after Halloween at least, but if not, have fun with it!