Our Solar System Tips

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Can you make your own Solar System?

Make your own Solar System

It's easier for a child to memorize the order of the planets in the Solar System if he or she creates a Solar System of his or her own. Inexpensive Styrofoam balls can be hung from fishing line to create a three-dimensional Solar System in a child's room. Have the child paint each “ball” to resemble the surface of each planet. Make rings for the outer planets using old CDs.

Is Earth the only planet with water?

Water water everywhere

Scientists conflict each other often on this question. While Earth may be the only planet with liquid water, almost all planets have some water in the form of ice. The outer planets have more probability of containing water ice because of their distance from the sun, but the poles of Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, are believed to contain ice as well.

I want to observe the planet Mars. What do I do?

Viewing Mars

If you want to get the best view of Mars while it is at its brightest in over 59,000 years, head outside and search in the south-eastern sky. This summer you won't even need a telescope to capture details of the planet's surface. Just bring a pen and a sketchpad or a 35mm camera to capture the image for your scrapbook.

Can I discover a comet?


If you want instant fame, start scouring the images taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a satellite which orbits the sun and is used to study its surface. Over four hundred comets have been discovered in the background of SOHO images. A father of three from Britain is credited with discovering 132 of these comets.

Does the Earth make any noise?

Singing planets

Interaction between the lower atmosphere and the interior of the Earth create sound waves, which if audible would drown out a freight train. Fortunately the sounds, which radiate through the atmosphere as a deep hum, are found too low to be heard by the human ear. Other terrestrial planets, such as Mars and Venus, are thought to create similar waves of sound. You won't hear the planets' symphony, though, for the emptiness of space cannot carry sound.

Isn´t Earth in a precarious position to be struck by objects in space?

Defending against meteor strikes

Don't worry about comets or asteroids hitting us unawares. NASA introduces the arrival of Sentry, an automated system which constantly updates the orbits and impact probabilities of all NEAs (Near-Earth Asteroids).

How do meteorites make craters?

Meteorites Explained

Terrestrial, or rocky planets, are often covered with craters. To teach children how craters are formed, take a large baking pan and line the bottom with flour. Layer brownie mix and cornstarch on top of the flour to mimic the layers of a planet's crust. Then, have children take turns sending meteorites into the pan. Marbles, pennies, or erasers work great. The resulting craters and ejecta matter show the how objects from space impact the surface of a planet.

Which planet is that?

Planets at Dinner Time

Children often learn best by seeing things over and over. Use that theory, and help your children create a drawing of the Solar System on a large piece of construction paper. Encourage children to make each planet as realistic as possible, and add the asteroid belt and some comets. Laminate each drawing, and use them as placemats each night.

Why is it so hot on Venus?

Greenhouse Effect

Scientists think that Venus and Earth started out with similar atmospheres. Venus changed, however, due to a runaway greenhouse effect. Venus' thick clouds trap the heat generated as sunlight filters through the clouds but cannot escape. This greenhouse effect heats the surface of the planet to roughly 900 degrees F. To illustrate this effect, have children take a Ziploc bag and place some soil in it. Add a little water, place a baking thermometer inside, and close the bag tight. Place the bag in the sunlight, and watch the temperature heat up. This shows how the temperature on the surface rises when the heat built up is not allowed to escape.

What would an alien who lived on another planet look like?

Aliens on Other Planets

Each of the planets in the Solar System is different than the others. Mercury is very hot, but has no atmosphere. Venus is also hot, but with a very thick atmosphere. The gas planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) have no solid surface, but have liquid oceans covering the planets. Jupiter has a very strong gravitational pull, which makes things very heavy. Mars is very cold, and has very little gravity. Get out the play dough and have children make an alien which could survive on a chosen planet. Allow them to stretch their imaginations while learning about life on other worlds.

How can the Moon block the Sun?

Understaning Solar Eclipses

Solar eclipses happen when the Earth's moon, which is very small, passes is front of the very large Sun. To better understand how this happens, have a child identify something in the distance which is larger than a penny. Hand the child a penny, and have him or her close one eye. As the penny is moved from an arm's length closer to the child's face, the object in the distance will disappear. An adult can explain that when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, the Moon blocks out light, just like the penny blocked the far away object.

Can you see other worlds tonight?

See the Planets

Use an online search to find out which planets can be seen each evening. The planets of the Solar System all orbit in roughly the same plane, so children can connect the dots between the visible planets. A simple tip to distinguish planets from stars is that planets don't “twinkle” the same way that stars do. It only takes a minute of online searching to inspire children to think about the other worlds in our system.

What would it be like to vacation on the Moon?

Hotels on the Moon

Hilton Hotels has plans to build the first extraterrestrial hotel on the surface of Earth's moon. This exciting build is still in the planning stages. Encourage creativity by having children plan their own hotel on the Moon. Children can think back to their last hotel stay and list some likes and dislikes. Then, they can design their own Moon hotel, complete with low-gravity activities and viewing Earthrises and Earthsets.

What's it like to walk on another planet?

Weight on Other Planets

Gravity varies on each of the planets in the Solar System. Everyone is familiar with what gravity is like on Earth, but what about the other planets and moons? On Earth's moon, the gravity is 1/6 that of Earth's. That means you can jump six times as far on the Moon. On Mars, the gravity is roughly 1/3 that of Earth's. On Jupiter, the gravity is 254 percent more than Earth's, so people would have a really hard time moving around. An 80-pound child would weigh 13 pounds on the Moon, but would weigh 189 pounds on Jupiter! To imagine what it's like to “walk” on other planets, put a CD on and dance! An adult can control the speed of the music so that children can jump fast like they're on Mars. Then, the adult can slow down the music so children can simulate walking slow, like on Jupiter.

How does lava form land?

Volcanoes Form Landmasses

Lava flows are responsible for forming a great number of features on the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars). In order to understand how lava flows and forms geological features, have children experiment with cake batter lava. Take a cookie sheet with sides and have the children make a landscape using play dough. Include mountains, valleys, and hills. Mix up some cake batter (just use the mix and some water to keep the batter safe). Then, incline the cookie sheet, and allow cake batter to flow down the landscape. Children can experiment with different landscapes and learn how geological processes form landmasses.

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Lynne Christen