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Coffee-can "Astronaut". (Hands-On Activity).

In space there is no temperature to speak of, because there are no gas molecules. Yet objects traveling in space can become extremely hot or cold, depending on how an object absorbs or radiates heat from the sun.

One way to protect astronauts from such extremes is the use of materials with the most desirable thermal (to keep warm) and insulating (to protect from cold) properties. This experiment investigates how different colors, surfaces, and materials affect an object's ability to absorb and radiate heat.


4 coffee cans with plastic lids * thermometers * paint in white, black, green, and yellow * materials for "spacesuit layers": foil, construction paper, variety of cloth * timer * freezer or tub of ice water * flood lamp * pencil * paper


1. Paint the outside of each coffee can a different color--white, black, green, and yellow.

2. Carefully punch a small hole in the center of the plastic lid. Insert a thermometer to the middle of the can.

3. Place the cans under equal exposure of sunlight. Use a floodlight if you conduct the experiment indoors.

4. Measure and record the temperature of each can every minute for 10 minutes.

5. Remove the cans from the heat of the sun or floodlight and place them in room temperature.

6. Continue measuring and recording the temperature of each can every minute for 10 minutes.

7. Wrap cans with your "spacesuit." Experiment with different combinations of materials and number of layers. Keep repeating Steps 3-6.

8. Repeat the above exercise, but this time put the cans in a freezer or tub of ice water (do not let water seep into the can).

9. Turn your data into graphs and charts (See SW 9/17/01, p. 18.)


Which combination of color and materials provided the best protection for the coffee-can "astronaut"? Why? Which combination is the worst? Why?


What do cosmonauts wear? How do their spacesuits differ from American gear?
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Title Annotation:heat experiment
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 15, 2001
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