Heat Transfer: MESSENGER -- My Angle on Cooling
MESSENGER in front of planet Mercury

Featured Lesson(s)

My Angle on Cooling -- Effects of Distance and Inclination


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Essential Question

How do distance and inclination affect the amount of heat received from a heat source?


MESSENGER Education is based on the MESSENGER mission to Mercury. In this lesson, students discover that there are two ways to cool an object in the presence of a heat source. One is to increase the distance between the object and the heat source and the other is to change the angle at which the object faces the heat source. Students perform an experiment measuring the heat experienced by a test subject as the distance and the viewing angle changes and relate their results to the reason for the seasons on Earth. Finally, students learn how the MESSENGER mission to Mercury takes advantage of these passive cooling methods to keep the spacecraft comfortable in a high-temperature environment.

Additional Resources

  Classroom Resources:


  • Videos for Students:
    • Connect lessons to real-life examples: The segment is a classroom discussion on the MESSENGER mission. The teacher talks about the challenges of exploring Mercury because of its distance from the sun. Using examples, the teacher demonstrates how distance and angle can affect the amount of heat that reaches an object and introduces the lesson activities on the effect of heat on distance and inclination.  
    • Effect of heat on distance: The segment shows students doing the lesson activity about the effect of heat on distance. In the classroom segment, the teacher demonstrates how to ask questions about the setup and how to make predictions during the activity. The teacher reviews some background information on Mercury as the students perform the activity.  
    • Effect of Inclination: The segment shows students performing the experiment and the teacher engaging students in a discussion and making predictions so they better understand the activity, the seasons, and how to apply what they learned in this MESSENGER lesson. This segment explains how to demonstrate Earth's tilt and its effect on the seasons.  
    • MESSENGER Mission to Mercury: The video of the Messenger mission to Mercury gives an overview of mission objectives, instruments on board the spacecraft, some of the challenges of exploring Mercury, and the questions MESSENGER is expected to answer.  
    • NASA CONNECT Video About the Seasons: The segment is a video from NASA CONNECT, “Ancient Observatories,” explaining the foundations of astronomy and the how Earth moves relative to the sun. This segment explains how Earth's tilt creates the four seasons.  


  Connection to NASA:

  Extension Activities:

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Lesson Information

Subject(s) Covered:

 • Physical Science • Earth and Space Science

Topic(s) Covered:

 • Light • Heat • Energy • Seasons on Earth • Solar system

Activity Type:


Grade Level:


Instructional Objective:

 Students explain how distance and inclination affect the amount of heat a test subject receives from a heat source.

Time to Complete the Activity:

 One to two 45 minute classes

  Materials Needed:

  • Materials per student group

One Celsius thermometer
One sheet of black construction paper
One piece of cardboard
Bricks or blocks
Graphing paper
Desk lamp or flood lamp
2-5 meter sticks
Masking tape
Scissors or knife
Colored pencils


   National Content Standards:



  • 21st Century Outcome: Life and Career Skills:
    • Social and cross-cultural skill: Interact effectively with others


  • Mathematics
    • Measurement: Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement


  • Science Standards
    • Earth and Space Science: Earth in the solar system
    • Physical Science: Transfer of energy


  • Technology Standards
    • The Nature of Technology: Students will develop an understanding of the relationships among technologies and the connections between technology and other fields of study