Teaching the Solar System

1. Make a Scale Model of the Solar System
 

Solar System Scale Model Meta Page A comprehension list of links about scale model solar systems and how to make them.

Build a Solar System Choose the size of the sun and this site will calculate the scale size of and distance from the sun for each planet. Also calculates speed of light and size of and distance to selected stars and galaxies.
How I do it - Intermediate with planets scaled 1:1 billion hanging from a string across the classroom.

 

2. Tours of the Solar System
 

The Nine Planets (Bill Arnett/SEDS) The definitive site on the solar system. Comprehensive information, pics, and useful links.
Welcome to the Planets (PDS/JPL) Great collection of thumbnail photos, descriptions, and information. Created by Jet Propulsion Laboratory - the folks who help NASA run all the space-probe missions.
Our Solar System- Windows to the Universe's excellent presentation of solar system facts.
NASA Planetary Photojournalism NASA's Image Access Home Page.

3. Other Interesting Solar System Links

 

StarChild Project:Connecting NASA and the K12 Classroom -Send your students here. Cool on-line activities, information and video about the sun, planets, and stars.

Live From Earth and Mars University of Washington site with lessons that can be used in the classroom.
Astronomical Calendar Make a calendar based on the changing position of the sun throughout the year
Make a Time Line of the Evolution of the Solar System from the big bang, to the present, to the death of the sun. 

Earth and Moon Viewer This Swiss site lets you view the Earth from over 100 satellites in orbit around the Earth.
Hubble Space Telescope Big site with lots of information for students and teachers.
Solar System Live Want to know where the planets are right now if you were viewing them from somewhere above the solar system? You can find out at this site. A great tool for exploring the orbits of the planets.
Your Sky Makes custom star maps for any location on Earth at any date and time.
Star Hustler
- Do-it-yourself PBS TV show on naked-eye astronomy. Tells you what to look for right now in the night sky.


Making a Model of the Solar System (In development)

Classroom Models An obvious starting point to studying the solar system is to make a model at your school or in your classroom. Unfortunately because the planets are so small, and the distances between them so large, it is not practical to have the sizes of the planets scaled the same as the distances. Make the earth a modest 1/2 inch and Pluto ends up 3.7 miles away

Planets sizes to scale:

With primary students it would be best to hand out dittos with the planets already drawn to scale. The students can cut these out and color them to match the planet they represent. They can then paste or staple these to a strip of paper in order from the sun.

With intermediate students

Option 1. Give them the scaled sizes of the planets (third column in table below) and have them use compasses to construct their own planets. For the smallest planets they should just draw the circle freehand. The students can cut these out and color them to match the planet they represent. They can then paste or staple these to a strip of paper in order from the sun.

Option 2. A more challenging task would be to give them a list of the actual sizes of the planets (first two columns of the following chart). Have them decide on a workable scale and determine the sizes each planet would be. If you want to try other scales go to Build a Solar System

Planets

Actual Diameter (metric)

One Possible Scale Diameter
-one billionth actual size-

Sun
1,390,000 kilometers
139 centimeters
Mercury
4,878 kilometers
0.5 centimeters
Venus
12,100 kilometers
1.2 centimeters
Earth
12,756 kilometers
1.28 centimeters
Mars
6,794 kilometers
0.67 centimeters
Jupiter
142,984 kilometers
14.3 centimeters
Saturn
120,536 kilometers
12.0 centimeters
Uranus
51,118 kilometers
5.1 centimeters
Neptune
49,528 kilometers
4.9 centimeters
Pluto
2,246 kilometers
0.24 centimeters
earth's moon
3.400 kilometers
.34 centimeters

Planet distances from the sun to scale

If you use the one to a billion scale that works great for planet sizes unfortunately Pluto ends up almost 6 km. (3.7 miles) away. To find a good scale to use in your class go to this site: Build a Solar System For a Pluto distance of about 40 feet, try a sun size of 3 mm.

Once you have the scale distances, hang one set of planets at their appropriate distances from the sun.

 

Planets
Distance (metric)
Distance (English)
Sun
Mercury
12.4 cm.
4.9
Venus
23.3
9.2 inches
Earth
32.2
1'.69"
Mars
49.1
1'7.3"
Jupiter
1.67
5'6.02
Saturn
3.08
10'1.08
Uranus
6.19
20' 3.56
Neptune
9,70
31' 9.84
Pluto
12.75
41'9.75
earth's moon
37.8 cm.
1' 2.9