Scale Model of the Solar System

3.7 based on 28 ratings

Updated on Sep 09, 2013

3.7 based on 28 ratings

Updated on Sep 09, 2013

A solar system is a group of planets and other space material orbiting (going around) a star. In our solar system, that star is better known as the Sun and the planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The solar system models you’ve seen before probably don’t show how much bigger some planets are than others, or, more importantly for space travel, how far away the planets are from the Sun and each other. The Earth is about 150 million kilometers (93 million miles) from the Sun. Because this distance is so important to us Earthlings, it has been given a special name, called the Astronomical Unit (A.U.) for short. The Earth is one astronomical unit from the sun. Planets that are closer to the Sun than the Earth have a measured distance of less than one A.U. while objects farther from the Sun than Earth have a measured distance of greater than one A.U.

The size of a planet can be determined from its diameter. Diameter, you might remember from math class, is the distance from one end of circle or sphere to another side, going through the middle.

In this activity, you will make two scale models of the solar system. A scale model uses the same measurement ratios as the real object does. The first model will compare the distance the planets are from the sun in astronomical units, the other model will compare the size of the planets using diameters in kilometers. You probably won’t be able to display either of these models, but you will learn a lot about the real dimensions of space.

Problem

How can we make a solar system scale model?

We want out model to reflect the relative distances and sizes of the planets.

Materials:

  • Meter stick (this project is much easier if you use the metric system—besides, scientists always use this system!)
  • Big outdoor space, at least 33 meters long. Do your experiment on a day that is not windy.
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Large glass or small bowl
  • Scissors
  • Black marker
  • Optional: Eight friends to hold your planets, or you can set the planets down on the ground after you measure the distance from the Sun.
  • Optional: Camera to make a permanent record of your model.

Procedure: Scale Model of Distances from Sun

  1. Trace 9 circles using the bowl as a guide. Because the distance scale model only is concerned about distances between the planets, you can make all the planets the same size.
  2. Label the circles Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
  3. Cut the circles out.
  4. Position yourself as the Sun.
  5. Give each of your friends a cut-out planet to hold.
  6. Have your friends position themselves the following distances from you. (Note that some of the measurements are in centimeters rather than meters. A centimeter is 1/100 of a meter, just like a cent is 1/100 of a dollar).

Planet

Distance AU

Model Distance from “Sun”

Mercury

.38

38 centimeters

Venus

.72

72 centimeters

Earth

1.0

1.0 meter

Mars

1.5

1.5 meters

Jupiter

5.2

5.2 meters

Saturn

9.5

9.5 meters

Uranus

19.2

19.2 meters

Neptune

30.1

30.1 meters

Materials:

  • Metric ruler
  • White poster board
  • Pencil
  • Drafting compass (the kind you draw circles with)
  • Scissors
  • Permanent Marker

Procedure: Scale Model of Relative Diameters of Planets

  1. First, we need to compare the diameter of the Earth to that of the other planets. Remember that diameter is the length of a straight line going through the middle of a circle. The Earth’s diameter is 12,760 km. We can divide the diameter of the Earth into the diameters of all the planets, to get a relative comparison.

Planet

Diameter in kilometers

Relative Diameter

Compared to Earth

Size in cm

Mercury

4800

.376

.4 cm

Venus

12100

.949

.9 cm

Earth

12750

1.00

1 cm

Mars

6800

.533

.5 cm

Jupiter

142800

11.2

11 cm

Saturn

120660

9.46

9 cm

Uranus

51800

4.06

4 cm

Neptune

49500

3.88

3 cm

  1. Use the ruler to draw a line for the diameter. Start with drawing the relative diameters of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
  2. Using the compass, draw circles around the diameters.
  3. Fit in the smaller planets (Earth, Mercury, Venus, and Mars) around where you drew the bigger planets.
  4. Label the planets, so you don’t forget which is which when you are cutting them out. For tiny planets, you might have to use an abbreviation.
  5. Cut your planets out.

Results

When you build the scale model of solar system distances, you will undoubtedly notice that some of your friends will be much closer together than others. Some of your friends will have to stand quite close to each other, while others will be far enough away to have a hard time hearing you! When you compare the sizes of the planets, Jupiter and Saturn will seem gigantic compared to the others.

Why?

The inner planets of the solar system; Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are relatively close to the Sun and each other, while the outer planets are relatively distant from each other and the Sun. The material that makes up the solar system is not distributed evenly. The Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune make up the bulk of the material in the solar system. Our own planet is tiny in comparison!

Going Further

Do you want to make a scale model of the solar system where both the distances and diameters are proportional to reality? This table expresses the diameters in A.U, so the size of the planet is correct proportion to its distance from the sun. Remember we set 1 AU, the distance between the Earth and Sun, as equal to 1 meter.

Planet

Diameter in kilometers

Relative Diameter

In AU (meters)

Mercury

4800

3.2 x 10-5

Venus

12100

8.1 x 10-5

Earth

12750

8.5 x 10-5

Mars

6800

4.5 x 10-5

Jupiter

142800

9.5 x 10-4

Saturn

120660

8.0 x 10-4

Uranus

51800

3.5 x 10-4

Neptune

49500

3.3 x 10-4

As you can see, all the planets would be too tiny to trace and out using equipment you have at home. What this table does remind you of is that space is, as the name suggests, mostly empty, and even big planets make up a tiny part of our solar system.

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