If any of your students have done any stargazing, it’s likely they’ve taken a telescope-assisted gander at Jupiter, mightiest of planets. And if they have, it’s also likely that they noticed mighty Jupiter’s shiny golden belt—the ring of Jupiter.
While not as big and flashy as Saturn’s broad and blingin’ rings, Jupiter’s ring is made of the same stuff: floating space debris caught in the planet’s equatorial orbit (or thereabouts). That debris is, more or less, just space gravel—rocks and particles and such, made up of basically the same stuff Earth rocks and particles and such consist of. So if it’s naught but a floating pile of rocks in outer space, why is Jupiter’s ring so shiny?
This handy dandy Demo Science science demo will help you explain that very thing to your curious and astronomically-minded students.
Flashlight Baby Powder
No, the above is not the name of the hottest up-and-coming teenage punk band on the planet, it is, instead, a list of the supplies you’ll need for this experiment. (So, a flashlight and baby powder in a traditional squeezable plastic bottle.)
Get all your students at their desks and, once you’ve gotten them to pipe the heck down, tell them to pay attention and that you’re going to turn the lights off, so no danged funny business, Kevin! I’m watching you, kid.
Fire up your flashlight and set it on the edge of your desk, facing a wall. Don’t want to blind any more students. Flip the lights off, and give everyone a minute or two for their eyes to adjust.
Then, sit or crouch down about halfway between the flashlight and the wall, and position your baby powder just below the flashlight beam. Give the container a quick squeeze so that baby powder blasts upward into the light.
Oh yeah, you’ll probably need a broom and dustpan or mop for this experiment, too. Might get a little messy.
Space Debris™ Baby Powder: For Space Baby Butts*
Your students will probably note that when it’s just the flashlight shining on the wall, the beam of light is hard to see. They can see where it hits the wall just fine, of course, but the actual beam itself will probably be mostly invisible.
However, when you squeeze the baby powder into the light beam, the specks of powder will glisten brightly, making the beam very easy to see. That’s because the baby powder particles reflect light back to your eye, just like the stream of space debris orbiting Jupiter reflects light from the sun.
Bonus fact: Jupiter’s ring orbits the planet at 34,000 miles above its cloud tops, which are the closest thing the gas giant has to a surface.
* i.e. the butts of space babies, not regular baby butts in space. It’s a very niche market.