How big is the solar system?

 Create a scale model of the universe in your own backyard by pacing off the planets! A great lesson with other fabulous planetary resources.

Create a scale model of the universe in your own backyard by pacing off the planets! A great lesson with other fabulous planetary resources.

You are out of this world! And just how far is that? Our universe is so vast it's almost incomprehensible. Almost!!

Today we're shrinking the universe to fit in your backyard or local park. Using balls and your footsteps, you can explore the distances between planets and the sun. We found this great idea from here on how to imagine the vastness of the universe. We paired the Planet Roll Call chant we found from Scholastic (check out their resource page), and finally, we watched over and over this animated song with fun facts about the solar system. How did I not know that Venus rotates the opposite direction of earth?

Here's what you need to travel with us:

  • The printable above! It has the steps you need to take to walk the distances, learn quick facts about each planet, and colorfully label the 8 planets and the sun
  • 9 balls. If possible, find balls that would be similar to the sizes of the planets. The sun becomes the largest, Jupiter and Saturn should be the next two largest, and the rest get smaller from there, with Mercury as the smallest.
 Create a scale model of the universe in your own backyard by pacing off the planets! A great lesson with other fabulous planetary resources.

Create a scale model of the universe in your own backyard by pacing off the planets! A great lesson with other fabulous planetary resources.

Here's our labeling process mid-way through. If you're motivated, you can recreate each ball to look like the planets. For this exercise, we wanted to keep things simple so we taped the names to each of the nine balls.

Beginning with the sun and taking steps from there, we put the planets in order. As a fun example, I asked C to put her finger next to our model earth. This distance across one finger is the relative distance to the moon.

Imagine that's the furthest that any human has traveled thus far! Looking back from Neptune, it seemed almost an invisibly small fraction of the universe.

I found myself understanding the solar system in new ways, too! Thinking about how life might be possible on other planets due to their proximal nature to the sun, but also nearly impossible for many others because of the extreme distances of others.

Also, the sun is our closest star, and the next closest star, Alpha Centauri, is another 200 miles in steps, even in our scaled model. Amazing!! And lots of whoas from the kids.

Our planet exploration was a wonderful reminder of the vastness of the universe and our relatively tiny spot within it.

Give this unusual walk a try and see how much you can discover about the expansive nature of the solar system!

xoxo, MJ

P.S. We're moving onto a study of the night sky through the story of constellations tomorrow! You'll need a corkboard, string/yarn, and some pins/pushpins.