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Scale Model of the Solar System

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Author: Beth Touchette

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

 

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