I’m not sure how I made it through school without ever really studying the solar system. Or maybe I simply misplaced all of the planetary facts that had accumulated in my brain. Whatever the case, one of our favorite subjects this year at home school is Astronomy. I am definitely learning as much as the kids on this one.
Last week, we had a fun project where we made a scale model of the solar system. This wasn’t one of those models where you blow up balloons to different sizes to represent each planet. No, we actually tried to show the size of the planets and the distance between them, to scale.
We started with a soccer ball, which represented the sun. We placed it on the sidewalk in front of our house.
Next we added Mercury. Relative to the size of the sun, we used a tiny round sprinkle. That’s right, compared to the soccer-ball size of the sun, Mercury would be about the size of a single grain of sand.
Next, we had to calculate the distance from the sun to Mercury. According to the sizes of the planets we had used, one yard would equal 3.6 million miles. And Mercury is about 36 million miles from the sun, or in our model 10 yards. Isn’t that amazing?!
My oldest son is standing next to the sun, while my other son is standing next to the tiny sprinkle, Mercury. (Sorry about the poor photo conditions, but we can’t really control the weather this far out in outer space.)
That seemed pretty far. But we were only getting started. Next, we came to Venus, which would be about the size of a red hot. It is 67 million miles from the sun, or about 18 yards in our model.
Earth also is the size of a red hot, and at 93 million miles, or 26 yards for us, the weather conditions are perfect to sustain life on the planet.
Then, we measured the distance to Mars, which would be about the size of a round sprinkle or large grain of sand in our model. We had to measure 40 yards from the sun to represent 143 million miles.
After that comes the asteroid belt. Did you know there is a lot of scientific evidence that the asteroid belt was once a planet? It actually rotates around the sun between Mars and Jupiter, as if it were a planet that exploded. All of those little asteroids, some of which are as big as the state of Texas, are represented by grains of sugar.
The asteroid belt is 280 million miles from the sun, or 77 yards in our model.
After that came Jupiter and Saturn, each of which could be represented by a large marble. We used two rocks for ours. Jupiter is 484 million miles from the sun, or 134 yards, and Saturn is 888 million miles from the sun, or 246 yards. You can barely see my older son who is standing way back by the soccer ball.
We were starting to run out of room, so we dropped Uranus and Neptune on our way to Pluto. Both planets would be about the size of a pinto bean in comparison to the soccer-ball sun. Uranus is 1.78 billion miles from the sun (495 yards in our model) and Neptune is 2.796 billion miles away (776 yards).
Our block is about .25 of a mile long. We would have had to go all the way around it and back to our house to approximate the distance from the sun to Pluto, which would be more than .5 miles to scale. Pluto is 3.673 billion miles from the sun.
The tiny planet (or non-planet) would be about the size of a small sprinkle. Here’s my son holding Pluto.
And here are both boys holding Pluto only half the distance it would really be from the sun, way, way back there. Boy it’s cold out here on Pluto! Fortunately, for us, though, there’s a park right across the street.