This is a good follow-up activity to an introduction of the solar system in which students have learned the basic structure of the solar system.
In this activity, students will gain a better understanding of the relative distances between the planets and how much greater these distances are the farther from the Sun planets are located.
An added benefit of this activity is that students practice using the APH label paper and making labels using a Perkins Brailler.
- Solar system
- Inner Planets
- Outer Planets
- Strip of paper 1 meter long and about 10 cm wide for each student
- Braille label paper – 1 sheet of small labels for each student but the entire sheet won’t be used .
- 20/20 marker for large print students – Available from APH
- Perkins Braillewriter
Prepare a strip of paper one meter long and 10 cm wide for each student.
Introduction: Ask the students how large they think the Solar System would be if we reduced the size six trillion times? Discuss.
In order to build the Solar System to this scale it will fit in a meter if we include Pluto. In this model, Pluto would be about one meter from the sun.
Students will work in groups of 2 or individually.
- Have students make labels for all planets and Pluto in Braille (for braille students ) using the APH small label paper. Print students will write the planets directly on the paper.
- After labels are prepared, reminding the students that this meter represents the entire Solar System, have the students fold the paper in half. Ask the students which planet they think will be at this fold? Discuss.
- Students will likely be surprised to find out that Uranus is the planet to place at the halfway mark. Discuss Explain that the distances increase as you go further from the Sun. Discuss.
- Fold the half of the paper past Uranus in half. Ask – What planet will go at this point? – Neptune.
- Label the far end of the paper Pluto
- Fold the other end of the paper in half – This is where the Saturn label should be placed. Discuss the decreased distances between planets as we head toward the Sun.
- Fold in half again and label Jupiter.
- Fold remaining paper in half twice and then label Mars.
- Ask – Why are these distances SO much smaller.
- Fold again and label Venus
- Fit Earth between Venus and Mars
- Fold one last time and label Mercury – This will be essentially at the beginning of the paper.
- After completion of the model, discuss the relative distances. Were students surprised? Proceed with instruction as planned.
Helpful information as you complete this activity for the instructor: (This information will not be given to the students.)
Distance from Sun in this model (measurements are in standard units):
- Pluto – 39 1/2 “
- Uranus – 19.25 “
- Saturn – 9.60″
- Jupiter – 5.25″
- Mars – 1.5 “
- Earth – 1 “
- Venus – 3/4 “
- Mercury – 3/8 “
- Instead of having students use the meter length paper, have students cut a length of paper that is their height and proceed likewise according to the procedure.
- If time allows, discuss the composition of the inner and outer planets , the Asteroid Belt, and other related space content as time allows.
Middle School Space Systems
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System
- The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them. (MS-ESS1- 2),(MS-ESS1-3)
- This model of the solar system can explain eclipses of the sun and the moon. Earth’s spin axis is fixed in direction over the short term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. The seasons are a result of that tilt and are caused by the differential intensity of sunlight on different areas of Earth across the year. (MS-ESS1- 1)
Many thanks to Jim Allan, Accessibility Coordinator at TSBVI (and resident Space Geek) for this idea.
By Laura Hospitál
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