Modeling the Solar System
Graduate Fellow: Kelly Fellows Master Teacher: Cheryl Park
Model calculations were obtained at http://www.exploratorium.edu/ronh/solar_system/.
Objective: To build a scaled-down model of the solar system that will allow the students to learn
about all nine planets’ size and distance from each other.
TEKS: 6.3c; 6.5a; 6.13a Time Allotment: 2 days
Materials (per student):
Metric ruler (mm divisions necessary)
Construction paper of various colors
Data sheet with planet sizes
Materials (per class):
Sun (diameter = 60in)
Overhead of city map
Engage: Begin by asking the students to name the nine planets. Ask them what they know
about each of the planets. List them on the board in their order from the sun. If they have not
thought of a fun acronym for the planets, work together to create one specifically for their class.
Then ask the students if they can list the planets from largest to smallest. Show them the cut out
of the sun and explain that they are going to be making an accurate model of the solar system in
class today. The data sheets they receive will list the conversions for all nine planets relative to
the size of our model sun. To get them thinking about how small the model systems will be,
show them one of the planets.
Explore: The students can now work individually to create their own solar system. Instruct the
students to cut out paper models of each of the planets using the sizes listed on their data sheets.
Once everyone has completed making their own solar system model separate the students into
small groups. Instruct them to decide how far apart they think the planets will be from each
other in our model solar system. They can record their predictions on their data sheets.
Explain: Gather the class together and fill in the model distances in the table. Then use the
overhead of the city to map out where the planets would be located if the sun was located just
outside of their school.
Elaborate: Other facts can be shared to help the students understand the scale of the solar
system. For example, in this model solar system, a human would be the size of an atom and the
nearest star would still be 40,000 km away (approximately the circumference of the earth!).
Evaluate: The last question on the data sheet provides some input from the students on what
they learned during the activity.
Solar System Model Calculation Results (based on a 60 in or 1,524 mm sun size):
Actual Model Actual
Planet/Star Diameter Diameter Distance from
from the from the sun
(km) (mm) the sun (km)
Sun 1,391,900 1,524 - 0 0
Mercury 4,866 5.3 - 57,950,000 63.45
Venus 12,106 13.2 - 108,110,000 118.37
Earth 12,742 13.9 - 149,570,000 163.77
Mars 6,760 7.4 - 227,840,000 249.46
Jupiter 139,516 152.7 - 778,140,000 851.99
Saturn 116,438 127.4 - 1,427,000,000 1,562.43
Uranus 46,940 51.3 - 2,870,300,000 3,142.70
Neptune 45,432 49.7 - 4,449,900,000 4,926.96
Pluto 2,274 2.4 - 5,913,000,000 6,474.18
Modeling the Solar System Data Sheet
MATERIALS (What did you use during the activity?):
DATA COLLECTION – Model Solar System Calculation Table:
Predicted Actual Model
Distance Distance Distance
Planet/Star Diameter Diameter
from the from the sun from the sun
sun (km) (m)
Sun 1,391,900 1,524 0 0 0
Mercury 4,866 5.3
Venus 12,106 13.2
Earth 12,742 13.9
Mars 6,760 7.4
Jupiter 139,516 152.7
Saturn 116,438 127.4
Uranus 46,940 51.3
Neptune 45,432 49.7
Pluto 2,274 2.4
CONCLUSION (What did you learn from your data?):
1. How closely did your predicted distances match the actual distances between the
2. If we put all of the model planets in their positions where would our model planet of Pluto be
3. List your three favorite facts about the solar system that you learned from this activity.