Building a solar system model at home is a hands-on way for students to visualize the positions and size relationships of the planets. Just note that it's not practical to build a correctly scaled model. According to Guy Ottewell of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, if you use an 8-inch ball to represent the sun, Earth would be the size of a peppercorn. And the dwarf planet Pluto? The size of a pinhead. Not to mention, the entire model would have a diameter of 1.58 miles. Here's how to pull off this simple school project.
Paint the Display
Lay the cardboard box on its side so that the opening faces you. Paint the inside black or a very dark blue. Add a few stars and galaxies with white paint, or with glow-in-the-dark paint for more effect.
Sort the Plastic Foam Balls
Sort the plastic foam balls into four sizes. The largest ball should be the sun. The next largest should be Jupiter and Saturn, followed by Uranus and Neptune, and then Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and Pluto.
Paint the Planets
Paint the balls with tempera paints in these colors:
- Yellow: Sun
- Brown: Mercury
- Brownish-yellow: Venus, Jupiter and Saturn
- Red: Mars
- Blue: Earth, Neptune and Uranus
- Black: Pluto
Cut the Planetary Rings and Asteroid Belt
Cut four rings out of poster board. They should be large enough to make the planetary rings for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Cut a fifth ring large enough to fit between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter; this is the asteroid belt.
Glue the Rings, Sun and Planets
Glue the planetary rings to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Glue the sun and the planets to the tips of straws. While the glue dries, draw asteroids on the asteroid belt with felt markers.
Cut and Set the Fishing Line
Cut two pieces of fishing line to the length of the width of the box opening. Using scissors, punch two holes into the center of the top of the display box. Drop each end of each fishing line through the opposite holes so that all ends fall to the same height. Tie off the each fishing line with a knot at the display's ceiling so they don't slide around.
Put It All Together
Glue the straws supporting the sun and the planets to the bottom of the display. Place the sun in the center, then moving outward from there, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Tie the ends of the fishing line to the asteroid belt's quarter points.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Leave enough space between Mars and Jupiter to hang the asteroid belt. Pluto is now considered a dwarf planet, so it's OK to exclude it from your display.
Use an apron or old clothes while working with tempera paints. They do not wash out completely.