Sunday, April 29, 2012

Astronomical Scale Model

Making an approximately to-scale model of the universe is a great activity for kids about to leave elementary school or who are in sixth grade Earth Science.  Enjoy learning about our shared address and impress your teacher or friends with the following.

So everything in space is crazy far away from one another.  Scientists have set the "standard unit" at One AU Or Astronomical Unit.  This is a measurement that is the same as the distance from Earth to our Sun. This means the distance from the sun to Jupiter is greater than 5 AU.  This picture certainly doesn't make the vastness clear!
So, to  demonstrate the relative sizes of Earth and Sun as well as their distance apart you should find the following:
1 really large balloon or a beach ball (2 feet in diameter)
3 cups flour
6 cups warm water
1 large bowl 
newspaper torn into strips.
1 pea or bead 1/4 inch in diameter
Yellow or white, blue and green paint
1 very small paintbrush and 1 medium-large paintbrush.
2 Dowels (or yard sticks) about 3 feet long.
Glue and Tape
Access to a football field

Now use the above items to do the following
1.  Make a model of the sun.  Complete this part in a space that can get messy or cover the area with table cloths or tarps.  Mix the water and flour in the large bowl and then papier-mache the newspaper strips around the ball or balloon.  Cover all of your sphere (except where the air nozzle or tied part of the balloon is) with a few layers.  Let your ball dry over several days.  

2.  Paint your pea or bead so it looks a bit like a miniature globe.

3.  Once your sun sphere is dry, paint your sphere.  The sun is actually a white ball of burning gas, but it looks yellow (some of the time) after its rays have passed through our atmosphere so you can choose whichever color you feel best represents the sun.  Once the paint is dry, pop the balloon or deflate the ball and remove from you sphere.  

4. Attach your pea to the top of one stick and your sun to the top of the other stick.

5.  Go to the large field.  If it is a football field push the stick with the sun model on it into the ground parallel to  a goal line.  (its best to do this just off the field as they are often carefully cared for and putting holes - however small in the field is generally frowned upon).  Then place the stick with the pea half way between the 28th and 29th yardlines on the opposite side of the field.  (How many yards is that?)

6.  Now imagine that all the pieces to your model (the earth, the field, and the sun) are two billion times the size at which you are looking.  Pluto would be about two miles away from you now in the model scale.

(The answer to the question in number 5 is 74.5 meters of 244 feet 6 inches).  Now calculate the real distance in miles or kilometers to the sun!

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