Icons 1423864368 solar system icon Solar System

Are you interested in a journey of discovery? Do the skies above call you? At night do you find yourself looking up into the stars? Our solar system is organized around a star, the sun, in a spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Activity 1 – Planets of the Solar System

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In our galaxy, there are more planets than there are stars. Currently, the count is eight planets in orbit around the sun. Counting from the sun outwards are Mercury, Venus, then Earth, and then Mars. These are considered to be the rocky inner planets of our solar system. The outer planets of Jupiter and Saturn are gaseous giants. Uranus and Neptune are known as ice giants with the greatest distance from the radiation of the sun. An easy way to remember the order of the planets from the sun outwards is to

Beyond Neptune, a newer class of smaller worlds called dwarf planets reign, including longtime favorite Pluto. Thousands more planets have been discovered beyond our solar system. Scientists call them exoplanets (exo means “from outside”). Draw a scaled version of the planets in our solar system and label them. Upload it to the gallery!

Activity 2 – Scale planets and stars across the universe

Activity 3 – Measure the solar system

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In this exercise you will measure the distance between planets in the solar system using your school building as the sun at the center of our solar system. To do this you will need to proportionally scale the distance of each planet from the sun in steps. First research our solar system. Check a chart that presents the planetary distances from the sun. Print or copy the Distance to the sun (in feet) of the Larger Scale Model Chart.datasheet Use the row of distances on the far left. First draw the sun on the front walk of your school; make it app. 77 inches in diameter. Now start walking. Find the position of the planet Mercury 266 steps from the front steps of your school. (Each step represents 50,653 miles/sheet). Draw mercury at 0.267” or approximately ¼” in diameter! Next, subtract the calibrated distance of the next planet, Venus, from the sun from the distance Mercury is from the sun. (498-266 = 232). Take 232 more steps and draw the planet Venus. Venus should be 0.664 inches or app. ¾” in diameter. Repeat this process moving to the planet earth which is 688 steps- 498 steps = 190 steps further to our very own planet earth! Draw earth at 0.699 or app. ¾” in size. Work you way to the outer edges of the solar system.

Think cosmic scale!

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Activity 4 – Scale a Solar System

You’ve probably seen lots of drawings and diagrams of the solar system. But, to make the drawings fit on a piece of paper, the artists have to draw the planets closer together than they really are. In this activity, you’ll make a scale model of the solar system. You’ll be surprised to see how much bigger some planets are than others, and how far apart some of them are. Compare size of planets to get started.
To make a scale model of the solar system, you will need to collect a few objects:

a ball (about 27 inches in diameter, 5 peas, 1 orange, 1 tangerine, 2 walnuts, a tape measure

Make your model in a large open space that will represent space. Put the beach ball or other large ball at one end of the space. The ball is the sun. Measure the distance between the sun and place your planet (objects) the distance listed below from the ball. Place the other objects as shown in the chart below. (Remember to measure each planet from the sun.)

Object Distance from the Sun Mercury Pea 1-¾ inches Venus Pea 3-¼ inches Earth Pea 4-½ inches Mars Pea 7 inches Jupiter Orange 2 feet Saturn Tangerine 3 feet, 7 inches Uranus Walnut 7 feet, 3 inches Neptune Walnut 11 feet, 4 inches. You have created a scaled model of the solar system! Share this with your friends and family! Upload a picture to the gallery!

Activity 5 – The scale of the solar system

To scale the solar system you can first experience it by looking at Scroll the Solar System.. You will see the time and distance between planets. You can make a miniature model of this system by following these instructions. You can then use your school as the sun and then walk distances away from it and place markers for each of the planets with information about the planets. You can draw the planets in their position in chalk on the sidewalks. You can note the planet positions on a Google Scribble Map for others to seek and enjoy!

Activity 6 – The Stuff of Stars

You and I are made of the stuff of stars! They are in our DNA! It was Copernicus who first hypothesized that the sun was the center of our solar system and that Earth revolved around the sun. But who discovered what stars are made of? It was a woman astronomer by the name of Cecilia Payne, a Ph.D. Student at Harvard in 1925.

There is no joy more intense than that on coming upon a fact that cannot be understood in terms of currently accepted ideas.
-Dr. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin i
She is the astronomer who discovered the chemical composition of stars. She studied physics at Cambridge University in England and after graduating, pursued a doctorate in astronomy at Harvard University. In 1925, she presented her thesis on stellar spectra, dubbed “the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy” by Otto Struve. Her thesis presented that the stars were primarily composed of helium and hydrogen. A revolutionary idea at the time, this conception of the makeup of stars would change how the universe was, and still is, perceived! After receiving her doctorate, she continued to work at Harvard but was denied a promotion to professor status at Harvard because she was a woman, she persisted and became the first female professor, and then the first woman to become department chair in 1956.

Research other astronomers and scientists who contributed to our understanding of how our solar system works as part of the universe.


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