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How does the Earth Cool Itself Off?

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    Colorado State University

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How does the Earth Cool Itself Off?

In this activity, learners simulate the energy transfer between the earth and space by using the light from a desk lamp to warm up a world map placemat. The placemat will warm up, so it will emit infrared, which learners can detect with an infrared thermometer. The hotter the surface, the more energy emitted, which the thermometer will show. Then learners will add an "atmosphere" to see how it holds the heat in and reduces the transmission of infrared. This activity also works well outside on a sunny day. Note: the cost of materials does not include the IR thermometer or lamp.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Simulation


Materials List (per student)

  • World map placemat
  • Desk lamp
  • IR thermometer
  • 3 squares of standard transparency (taped together)


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Processes
      • Weather and Climate
    • Earth Structure
      • Atmosphere
      • Earth, Moon and Sun
  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
      • Heat and Temperature
      • Heat Transfer
      • Thermodynamics and Entropy
    • Energy
    • Light and Optics
      • Sunlight and Color
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Light and Optics
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Outdoor Activity
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


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Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All Rights Reserved, Little Shop of Physics, ©2009


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