How far away are the planets?



Andrew Hall

Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics


Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

Summer 2006



Do Now:   Create a mnemonic device to remember the following string of letters: MVEMJSUNP


[Textbook chapter and section]



Students will be able to:

v     Name the nine planets in order

v     Describe some notable characteristics of the planets

v     Explain how distance from the sun may affect these characteristics



      Students will share their mnemonic devices and we will discuss the reason for memorizing this particular string of letters.

      10 minute photo (or video) tour through the solar system using LCD projector

      Pass out the following supplies:

         3 pins with round pinheads, 2 peppercorns, 2 peanuts, a pecan or chestnut, a hazelnut or acorn.  Any objects of similar size will do.

      Ask students to decide which object should represent each planet.

      Have students measure the diameter of one of these objects and compare it to the actual diameter of the planet it represents.

         What is the approximate scale of our model solar system? (1 = 100,000 miles)

         How big should our model sun be? (volleyball sized)

      Bring students outside to schools athletic field and place the sun at one end, attached to a stick a few feet off the ground if possible.

         Using supplied data sheets, have students calculate the correct distance to place Mercury, Venus, etc.

         Each step (1 yard) is equal to about 3.6 million miles

         Pluto should be just over 1,000 paces from the sun

         It may be necessary to model only the inner solar system in this manner or even to do the activity on a much smaller scale in the classroom.

      Back in the classroom, upon completing the model, students will spend about 10 minutes writing an explanation of any connections they see between the distances of the planets from the sun and their characteristics. (temperature, density, etc)

      The class will discuss their conclusions before the end of the period



      Student writing at end of period will be collected.


National Standards:

v     TEACHING STANDARD A:  Select teaching and assessment strategies that support the development of student understanding and nurture a community of science learners.

v     TEACHING STANDARD B: Focus and support inquiries while interacting with students.