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Scale of Sun to Earth

Required Material

9 - pieces of paper

1 - roll of toilet paper

1 - ruler
1 -set of planet printouts (provided or 1 compass to draw your own.)

Planet Printouts
1 - pair of scissors

1 - calculator

1 - long hallway or outdoor space of at least 110 feet (30.5 meters). You can make a partial model if your space is smaller.

1 - table with measures of planet radius and distance to the Sun relative to scale.

saturnYou can construct a scale model of the solar system to help visualize the relative sizes of the Sun and planets, and the distances between them.

In this activity, you'll investigate the concepts of relative size and distance by creating a basic model of our solar system.

The image shows Saturn's famous rings. Faint rings can be found around Uranus, Jupiter, and Neptune.

1. Cut out the planet printouts provided, or using the measurements in the table above, use your compass to draw circles on paper. Note that this activity uses two scales: one for the printouts and cut-outs, and one for the distances between the planets. This is due to the enormous distances involved. The planet cut-outs would be too small to use in our scale model. The second column in the table is for size, the last column is for distances.
2. If you choose to draw your own circles, label each planet. Cut the circles out and use them as your planets.
3. Choose a point at one end of a hallway, large room, or outdoor space as the Sun and mark it as your starting point.
4. Without looking at the table, place each planet in order of the distance you think it is from the Sun. As a reference, use 33.5 inches (85 centimeters) for the distance between Earth and the Sun.
5. Using the table, measure the distances by rolling out the toilet paper. Mercury is 2.9 sheets relative to the Sun, Venus 5.5 sheets from the Sun, etc. See how well your family did at estimating the distances. Move the planets to their proper distances, and you've built a scale model of the solar system.

This activity helps demonstrate the immense scale of our solar system. The sizes of the planets vary greatly as do the distances between planets and their distance from the Sun. The size of the Sun in this scale (which wasn't included in this activity) would have been 38 1/2 inches (97 centimeters) in diameter (19 1/4 inches in radius).

Derived from "A Toilet Paper Solar System Scale Model": from Project Pulsar, St. Louis Science Center.

globe icon Learn more about the solar system at The Nine Planets Web site.

globe icon Learn more about constructing scale models on the Exploratorium's Build a Solar System Web site.

globe icon Find more hands-on Astronomy Activities at the At Home Astronomy Web site.

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