What's The Composition of the Universe?


The composition of the universe is constantly changing. The universe began with hydrogen and helium. Through fusion in the stars and explosive supernovae other heavier elements were created from these two elements. Overtime more and more light elements were turned into heavier elements.

Resource Use:

In this activity students, working in groups, will create samples that show the abundance of elements in substances found in the universe. They will trade samples and try to identify the new substance.

This activity can be conducted with either colored sprinkles or with colored confetti made using a hole puncher. Provide groups of students with a list of the elements and the color that represents each element.

H: white sprinkles
C: red sprinkles
He: green sprinkles
O: blue sprinkles
Fe: yellow sprinkles
N: black sprinkles
Si: orange sprinkles
Mg: purple sprinkles
Na: pink sprinkles
Other: chocolate sprinkles

Have students work in small groups. Provide each group with a small clear jar (baby food jars work well for the activity). Distribute one "recipe" card to each group. Groups should not divulge the substance on their card to other groups. Explain that each recipe gives the abundance for the various elements that make up the substance. Each group will have the task of using colored sprinkles or confetti to create the substance. The measured amounts should total approximately 10 teaspoonfuls. Explain that less significant elements with small abundance have been listed as "other." Have groups look at the percentages of elements for their substance and calculate how much of each colored sprinkle or confetti to put in the jar or bottle.

Recipe Card 1: The Sun
H: 92.1 %
He: 7.8%
O: 0.1%

Recipe Card 2: Supernova
O: 42.2%
Fe: 36.7%
C: 11.1%
Si: 3.7%
Mg: 2.8%
Other: 3.5%

Recipe Card 3: Earth's Atmosphere
N: 78.0%
O: 21.0%
Other: 1%

Recipe Card 4: Carbonaceous Condrite
O: 44.3%
H: 30.8%
Mg: 6.2%
Si: 5.5%
Fe: 4.9%
C: 4.2%
Other: 4.1%

Recipe Card 5: Mercury's Atmosphere
He: 42.0%
Na: 42.0%
O: 15:0%
Other: 1%

When groups have created their substances, have them secure the lids and gently shake to mix the elements. Then, without divulging what the substances are, have groups trade jars with other groups. Have students estimate and record the percentage of each element in the new jar. Then give them a list of abundances for the different objects. Have them determine what the contents of their jars represent.

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