Sizing Up The Solar System

Learn how far apart things are in our solar system. Discover the scale of the planets!

Pocket Solar System - Activity Outline PDF
Make a miniature model of Earth's neighborhood. Our solar system is made up of eight planets and many other objects orbiting the sun. In this activity, you will take a one-meter strip of paper (receipt tape works well) and follow instructions to approximate the distance of celestial bodies. Instead of using stickers, try drawing a picture of the planet on the line you measured for it. Add in other objects we know of in space like the Jupiter probe Juno or a Mars rover. Download the activity guides and access training videos on the NISEnet website. Here is a PDF or JPG of the folding instructions edited to say "draw" instead of "place sticker".

Solar System on a String - Activity Outline PDF
Another fun way to visualize the distances between the planets of the solar system. In this version, you will take a 7ft piece of string, or we like to use flagging tape and attach a picture of the sun to one end. Then follow the guidelines of where the rest of the planets would be in relation to the sun and staple their labels into place. Stretch it out from the ceiling or across the floor and see how tall you are compared to the distance of the planets at this scale! Hang it on the wall and use it as a roadmap to the planets as you dive deeper into space learning! Download an activity guide.

Model the Sun/Earth System
Measure out a scale model of the actual distances of planets in the solar system. This model will be at a 2,000,000,000/1 scale. Hypothesize the distance, calculate the distance, then go outside and measure out the distances between the inner planets. Have one person stand where each planet would be. If it is dark where you are, try bringing five flashlights- one for each planet and the sun. This can also be extended into a factoring lesson. Download the lesson plan and worksheets here, as well as a summary for a table station. This lesson comes from the Geophysical Institute's Cultural Connections Middle School Kit. 

Big Earth/Small Moon - Activity Outline PDF
We can see a solar eclipse here on Earth because the Sun and Moon appear to be the same size in the sky. Explore how you can trick your eyes with size and distance. Discover that the further away an object is, the smaller it appears. Use any two round objects that are different sizes: a beach ball and tennis ball? a basketball and golf ball? two different size circles cut out of paper? Download the activity guides and access training videos on the NISEnet website. This activity is appropriate for all audiences.


This project was funded under NASA  cooperative agreement NNX16AL65A. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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