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Scale of the Solar System: The Journey Begins
Organizations & Clubs

Color image of arm holding up planet models in comparison to the Sun.
The Night Sky Network's Worlds of the Solar System provides visual tools to bring home the size of objects in our solar system compared to the sun.
Bring the solar system to your community! Offer programs that feature both the size and distance of the sun and select solar system objects. The activity links below describe solar system models from foods or household objects.

Consider partnering with other organizations to celebrate the grand scale of our solar system. Locate an existing solar system walk near you and partner with the host organization to provide programs! Local Solar System Ambassadors, members of a local astronomical society, and scientists from nearby universities might be available to support your program. For example, members of a local astronomical society could set up a scale model on a football field with telescopes fixed on each planet that can be viewed that night at that planet's location in the model.

Note that these activities are appropriate for older children (ages 10 to 13) who are able to explore the geometry of sun-Earth-Moon relationships in three dimensions. Many children under 10 are not able to fully conceptualize the Earth's spherical nature and their relationship to it, and so they are unable to create an accurate mental model.

Submit videos or pictures of your scale model solar system and the people enjoying it to Share Your Stories!


Determine how many planets your space accommodates before you start. You do not have to use all the planets! It is best if Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter are included to illustrate the scale of our solar system. If you must omit some of the solar system objects, provide a wall or other area to display the Solar System Lithograph (new window) about those that cannot be represented in the course.

Activity Description
Jump to Jupiter Children help create and then navigate an outdoor course of the traditional "planets" (including dwarf planet Pluto), which are represented by small common objects. By counting the jumps needed to reach each object, children experience first-hand the vast scale of our solar system.
Solar System in My Neighborhood In this 1-hour activity, students shrink the scale of the vast solar system to the size of their neighborhood. They are challenged to consider not only the traditional "planets," but also some of the smaller objects orbiting the sun. Children compare the relative sizes of scale models of the planets, two dwarf planets, and a comet as represented by fruits and other foods. They determine the spacing between the scaled planets on a map of the neighborhood and relate those distances to familiar landmarks. This indoor activity may be used in addition to, or in place of, the outdoor scale model explored in "Jump to Jupiter."
The Thousand Yard Model This is a classic exercise for visualizing just how BIG our solar system really is. Both the relative size and spacing of the planets are demonstrated in this outdoor exercise, using a mere peppercorn to represent the size of the Earth.
Worlds of the Solar System from Night Sky Network Use a set of scaled balls and beads to show the relative sizes of the planets, the Moon, Ceres, and Pluto to each other and to the sun. This permanent model can be used over and over again in many ways.
Solar System Size-Up How big is our solar system? In this activity, students will see the relative sizes of the planets and how far apart they really are. This activity will especially emphasize how large and empty a place our solar system really is.

Create your own scale model to suit your facility's size! Use the Exploratorium museum's online calculator to automatically determine the scaled sizes of the planets and distances from the sun, relative to the size of the sun you provide. A large model will make the planet representatives larger and easier to see. A smaller model may fit in a tighter location, or even indoors, but the Pluto, Mercury, and Mars representatives quickly become too tiny to see with the naked eye as the model is scaled down.

The Orbit Simulator: This simulator lets people explore many aspects of the orbits of planets -- and one comet. This could be a great interaction tool as part of an exhibit.

Build Your Own Permanent Solar System Walk

Consider building a permanent, interactive scale model of the solar system at your venue! At museums, science centers, and planetariums, visitors may stop at artistic interpretations of solar system objects. Hikers at parks may stop at interpretive signs placed at appropriate intervals as they "hike to Pluto." Models can be constructed to fit your budget: Use materials from a local hardware store to create marker posts and provide laminated sheets that are periodically replaced. Offer a simple brochure that marks the distance to each solar system object in your model. Or, commission artwork and signage to create a permanent feature in your community.

The Voyage National Program offers instructions to replicate the solar system walk in place at the National Mall in Washington, D. C. Visit Voyage's homepage for details.

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Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014