Scale Model of the Solar System


At Fremont Peak Observatory this Saturday, I will be doing an activity for the kids that involves a large scale model of the solar system.  We’re not going to do the entire solar system, just some of the inner planets.

I really wanted to make the scale model of the Solar System as outlined in “Worlds of the Solar System” activity on the NASA Night Sky Network, but the materials for it turned out to be much more difficult to obtain than I anticipated.

You can in fact order ‘Dylite’ (a.k.a. ‘Smoothfoam’) balls in various sizes… if you are willing to order multiple units.  I don’t want twelve of the  1 & 3/8 inch balls, I want two!  The local crafting store has a very limited selection of these.  I could get the 4-inch ball but not the 3 & 7/8 inch one.  Plus, they’re expensive!

So, a different solution needed to be found.

Being pressed for time, and unable to find the materials, I resorted to rendering the model in 2D instead of 3D.   In the PDF file is a handout page with correctly scaled pictures of the planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune).  Dwarf planets need not apply, apparently, but they are too small to be made in this 2D model anyway.

In order to accomplish my project, I printed two copies of the handout page in color.  I then used a glue stick to glue the back of the planets (before I cut them out) and pasted each sheet onto cardstock (a file-folder would work here too).  After letting them dry for a while, I then used scissors and a craft knife to cut out the pictures.

At this point, I had two pictures of each planet.  I quickly learned in the next step that the smallest planets (Mercury and Mars) are too small to do this next step.  The larger planets worked fine, and the larger rocky planets (Earth and Venus) could go either way .

The next step is to glue the two pictures of each planet together around bamboo Shish Kabob skewers (which I stole from the drawer in our kitchen).  For this step I recommend using ordinary white glue.  It wouldn’t work on regular weight paper, but on the cardstock it softened it up enough to mold the cardstock around the skewers.  This works great for the gas giant planets.

When I got down to Venus and Earth, however, it was much more difficult because of the small sizes of the circles.  When I got down to Mars, it was impossible.  I resorted to using a single cut-out, and placing a drop of glue on the back, then laying the tapered tip of the skewer into the glue.   I repeated this for Mercury.

In retrospect, this would work well for Venus and Earth as well.  If you wanted to, there is really no reason why the planets have to be double-sided, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

I used the label page printed on plain paper, and glued the labels around the skewers using a glue stick.

I’m actually fairly proud of the result.

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3 thoughts on “Scale Model of the Solar System

  1. Pingback: Scale Model of the Earth and Moon « AstroGeek

    • Why *thank* you! I have to say that the models work really well in 2D. I really don’t see a reason to make them 3D, plus they’d be harder to store and transport.

      The boy scouts got a kick out of the presentation too. I planned on putting my 1-meter sun cut-out on the side of the observatory building, but I forgot push-pins (note to self for next time), so we just *imagined* the 1-meter sun. Fortunately the hand-rail on the walkway was about 1 meter.

      Then we hiked down the hill to the 48 yard mark, which I had sneakily prepared by placing a rock on top of the fence. Then I held up tiny Mercury, and the “oohs” and “ahhs” were worth it. Repeated for Venus at 120 yards. Did not do Earth (not enough room on the mountain top).

      I have to say, the Night Sky Network site has some pretty awesome stuff for public presentations.

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