The Dimensions of the Solar Systemby: Stephen E. Schneider and Kathleen S. Davis

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A few new wrinkles have been added to the popular activity of building a scale model of the solar system. Students can learn about maps and scaling using easily accessible online resources that include satellite images. This is accomplished by taking advantage of some of the special features of Google Earth. This activity gives students a much more powerful sense of the enormity and emptiness of the solar system and, at the same time, provides an opportunity to make connections with the community.

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Reviews (4)
  • on Fri Feb 15, 2019 3:28 PM

This article was simply amazing! I have always had an interest in the solar system and ways to build models of the solar system. The idea of using google earth to help students understand scale and proportions is very unique! As the article stated, traditional scale models so not allow for deep student understanding of the scaling of the solar system. By using google earth, students get a more realistic understanding of the scale of the solar system. I would love to try this activity with students! Great article!

Abril Mills
Abril Mills

  • on Wed Jun 13, 2018 10:13 PM

Even my freshmen Earth Science students still struggle with scale and proportion when studying the dimensions of our solar system. This ingenious resource uses features in Google Earth to help clear up problems that traditional models have when comparing both the size of celestial bodies and their distance from each other. By using several of the features found in Google Earth and an gif overlay of both the inner and outer solar system, students better understand the Earth’s place in the solar system. As an extension, making and placing a model of the sun and inner planets relative to each other throughout the school campus will help students appreciate both size and scale. I would use this activity in conjunction with building the NASA-developed traditional model that uses everyday items to represent objects in the solar system and the Powers of Ten video so they would understand the immense size of the universe.

Ruth Lehmann Hutson  (Westmoreland, KS)
Ruth Lehmann Hutson (Westmoreland, KS)

  • on Wed Aug 15, 2012 10:45 AM

This is a very interesting article where the author has put an overlay of the solar system over a map on Google Earth. It helps give students a visual idea of the scale of the solar system by comparing it to the area around their school which students are familiar with. It also give an idea of the orbit of the planets.

Betty Paulsell  (Kansas City, MO)
Betty Paulsell (Kansas City, MO)

  • on Mon Jan 31, 2011 2:00 PM

This is s terrific way to incorporate technology into a classroom lesson on planetary distances. In the past I have always done the old "toilet paper" distance model and used various objects to represent size (grain of rice for Mercury and beach ball for Jupiter). I love the idea of using Google Earth and superimposing the solar system on top of what we can see and know within our geographic area. I really like the idea of the author about how the planets are not linear and that this shows where they might be in an orbit putting it all in scale. This article was especially helpful for me as I always struggle to find ways to incorporate technology within my lessons and I want it to be meaningful technology: not just using technology for its own sake.

nancy bort  (arlington, va)
nancy bort (arlington, va)

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