Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Asteroid Belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Kuiper Belt Objects- it’s the solar system!
But what’s wrong? I’ve included the belts of comets, I’ve even included downgraded dwarf-planet Pluto but there’s still something missing…
The same thing that’s missing from this picture of the solar system… But what is it..?
The gaps! We’re missing the masses of space between the planets which make up space. (funnily enough…) Planets are like grains of sand spaced out in a large outdoor stadium.
When teaching children about the solar system and using images like the one above it is fundamental to ensure you also teach about the gaps between the planets.
But how do we teach about the gaps between planets when it would be near enough impossible to fit them all on a page? its all about scale and proportion.
One way I found to be effective was to line the planets up in a setting I knew (this also links to the CfE principle of relevance). For example, when explaining to a room full of confused-looking student teachers, Dr Simon Reynolds used Dundee and the surrounding areas. If, scaled down, the sun was at the Dundee Science centre, the furthest away planet (that we know of), Neptune would be way past St Andrews and into the Scottish waters. (See below)
This image shows how difficult it is to show the planets and gaps between them in a single picture. With the planets proportionally sized and spaced out you can barely even see the inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) which are all scattered across the Tay Road Bridge.
Another activity Dr Simon Reynolds engaged us in was using different balls to show the difference in size between the different plants. For example, if the sun was the size of a beach ball, the Earth would be a small bouncy ball and Neptune would be a football.
So, even if using pictures like the first one in the blog post to teach children about the planets in our solar system, it is equally important to teach about the gaps and sizes of each of the planets using a number of different activities.