Scale Model of the Earth and Moon

scale_earth_moonAs well as the scale model of the solar system in my previous post, I will be using a scale model of the Earth and Moon in order to show distances, as well as demonstrate eclipses.   For this model, I used a 1″ wood ball, and a 1/4″ wood ball.  I drilled holes in them, and glued them onto bamboo Shish Kabob skewers.

Then I painted the moon a gray that my wife had in her craft paints, and  also painted the ‘Earth’ to vaguely resemble a globe.  I can’t say that I’m an artist.  If I work really hard, I may someday be good enough to be fired from a sweatshop operation in China.

To use this I’ll be using a pair of spring clamps, and a yardstick (or reasonable approximation thereof).  The proper distance between the Earth and Moon at this scale turns out to be 30 inches.

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.

What we lose if Fremont Peak Observatory closes:

In a blog post back in May the Frog Mom in California posted about visiting Fremont Peak State Park,  and visiting the observatory:

When we admired Saturn through the telescope, I was dumbfounded. I had never really seen Saturn before I guess. It was so perfectly round and so black-and-white bright that it looked, as my friend Sue put it, “like a sticker on the lens.” A postcard perfect Saturn.

All I can say is get back up here on one of the next two weekends (August 22 or August 29) because after Labor Day the observatory may not be there anymore.


Fremont Peak impending closure

In an effort to close California’s significant budget gap, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has significantly cut funding to the state park system. This is forcing the California State park system to propose closing several state parks, including Fremont Peak State Park, which is where the FPOA Challenger telescope lives.

This closure, if it stands, would be a significant blow to amateur astronomy and to astronomy education in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Fremont Peak Observatory is maintained by over a hundred amateur astronomers who serve the entire region, providing educational opportunities including viewing opportunities, classroom visits, participation in scientific research projects, internships for community college students, lectures, and educational projects and activities. Local schools from elementary classrooms up through community colleges use the resources provided by FPOA.

In a letter to members FPOA president Doug Brown asks for help to:

identify decision-makers,
draft appeal letter templates for distribution to our members and customers, draft media releases,
or make effective contact with representatives and media

Fremont Peak Star-B-Que August 2nd

2007 Star-B-QueIt’s that time again, on August 2nd, Fremont Peak Observatory will host it’s annual ‘Star-B-Que’, a public event where first you eat, and then you look at the stars!  See this link for the official announcement. The picture to the left is from last year, and you can see a good (albeit smoky) time is being had by all.  Click on the picture to go to my Picasa Web Albums folder with pictures from last year.

You do not need to be a member of the Observatory Association to come.  The Potluck feed starts at 5:00 PM.  Please bring a side dish, dessert, salad or your favorite dish to share.  Parking is limited, so get there early.

After the food and fun there is the famous “Astronomical Gastronomical” contest, where astronomy-themed dishes are judged on presentation, originality, and (of course) flavor.  My oldest daughter was asked to be a judge last year, which she really enjoyed.

There will be a raffle with various items (including the CD I made last year, newly revised and updated for 2008!)  If you don’t get one for a raffle item, I’d be happy to burn you one for only $10.