16 jun. 2012

Astronomical games I. The Solar System

Time ago I had the opportunity to visit a primary school in UK to talk about astronomy. Back to Mexico I used to give and enjoy outreach talks about science. In UK I started to talk about Mexican culture and after a year I had the opportunity to give talks about astronomy for kids. I was a little scared about this new experience as it is in some way is easiest to speak with adults (more if they are academics) than to speak to kids. Anyway, it was my second year in UK and I wanted to share a little part of the knowledge of the universe to these little guys and discover as I discovered before with other kids, new thoughts and very interesting questions.


Conditions in every country are different and the ways of express feelings are also not the same. However, I could realize that, regardless their nationalities, adults and kids enthusiasm about similar things is the same. And one of those things is astronomy.

Imagining the astronomical distances is a challenge for anyone. A way to visualize our Solar System is to build a model about it taking into account a convenient scale for the Sun and the planets’ sizes and distances.

Take, for instance, the size of the Sun of 90cm of diameter. Then the planets must have the following sizes: Mercury (3.2mm), Venus (7.8mm), Earth (8.2mm), Mars (4.4mm), Jupiter (92.4cm), Saturn (77.9), Uranus (33.1), Neptune (32.1) and Pluto (1.5mm) also considered planet in this blog. By the way, in one of the UK primary schools, the teacher and their students told me very seriously that they decided to consider Pluto as a planet and ask me for the same, what do you think?

In that occasion I made a drawing for explaining them the planet sizes in the Solar System. See it in here and if you want you can download the image. Don’t you think that the relative sizes are very amazing? (Think in the Sun!).


On the other hand, it is a little bit more difficult to figure out the distances but it is even more amazing. In this scale (about the ten-thousand-millionth part of the Solar real System!), Mercury has to be at 37m from the Sun. Venus at 70m, Earth at 97m, Mars at 147m, Jupiter at 503m, Saturn at 924m, Uranus at 1.8km, Neptune at 2.9km and Pluto at 3.8km. Ok, there is nothing amazing if you only read the numbers, they are only numbers. But try to put the scaled planets in the scaled distances. Simply imagine Pluto of 1.5mm at almost 4km of a 90cm-Sun!

Some years ago, when I was a high school teacher, my students and I built a similar model and after placing the Sun in the blackboard, we could place Mercury in the entrance of the school (named Prepa 6 of Coyoacan). We didn’t have the time or the patience to place Pluto but Saturn was placed in Coyoacan downtown!

Well, I really hope that you can build this model and enjoy the time as we did, and, of course, you can amaze of our Solar System!

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