The Solar System
This unit contains resources about the structure, scale, and origin of the solar system.

Workshop Presentations

PowerPoint. Click to download the MS Powerpoint file (13 Mbytes).

HTML Click to view the presentation in html format.

PDF. Click to view or download the presentation in PDF (7.5 Mbytes).

Online lecture Pt. 1 Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing units for describing distances and the mass of objects in space and the classification of solar system bodies. (~30 minutes)

Online lecture Pt. 2 Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing the characteristics of the terrestrial and Jovian planets. (~39 minutes)

Online lecture Pt. 3 Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing origin of stars, planets and the solar nebular theory. (~13 minutes)

Classroom Activities

Planetary Temperatures Activity. Word Document PDF In this activity, students use a model system to investigate the relationship between the heating of the terrestrial planets and their distances from the Sun. Model data are collected in a simple experiment and compared to actual planetary data. Teacher Notes and Key

Solar System Scale Model. Cllick to download a simple scale model of the solar system. It is large scale and must be done outdoors in a large space (such as an athletic field). Although the model solar system includes the outer planets, it is unlikely that there will be space for the entire solar system. However, it is instructive for students to see the scale of the solar system and understand that not all of the outer planets can be included in this model.

Comets: Very Eccentric Characters! This activity from the NASA Space Place teaches students about eliptical orbits. Using street chalk, students draw a large scale model of the orbits of the planets and comets. This was originally published in The Technology Teacher, April 1999, by the International Technology Education Association. PDF

Online Video and Media Resources

How the Inner Solar System Formed This video from NOVA examines the formation of the terrestrial planets by accretion. WGBH

Evolution of the Moon This video examines the origin of the Moon and how its surface has been modified by impacts. NASA/GSFC

What is a Dwarf Planet? This short video discusses the modern nomenclature of our solar system and the new Dwarf Planet designation. NASA

Jupiter: The Largest Planet This video examines our largest planet, Jupiter, its affect on the rest of the solar system and the Galilean moons. NASA/GFSC

A Private Universe This landmark documentary examines how deeply our students hold onto scientific misconceptions. It's 20 minutes long and well worth the time. Look for the VoD (Video on Demand) link to view the film.

Inquiry Based Teaching of the Solar System This video follows how a teacher uses inquiry methods to teach about the scale of the solar system in a middle school classroom.

Why is the Solar System Flat? This short animated video discusses the development of a "flat" solar system (plane of the ecliptic) from an irregular cloud of dust and gas that was oringally more spherical. Minute Physics.

How Big is the Solar System? This short video describes a scale model of the solar system at the scale where the Sun is represented by a grapefruit. It's Okay To Be Smart.

To Scale: The Solar System. This short video shows a scale model of the solar system if the Earth were the size of a marble. Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh


Useful Websites

NASA (main website) This is the main entry point for NASA's extensive web resources. You can enter different areas such as NASA mission websites including data and news, educational resources and image/multimedia collections.

NASA Missions This page lists past, current and future NASA missions and is a great starting point for investigating the wide variety of NASA missions and investigations.

NASA Education Resources Database This NASA website is a searchable database on NASA-developed educational resources, activities, lesson plans, and webquests.

NASA Science This is the website of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. It includes mission information, data and resources for current missions in the following areas: Earth, Heliophysics, Planets and Astrophysics.

SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) SOHO is an international collaborative project between ESA and NASA to study the Sun from its deep core to the outer corona and the solar wind. There is a ton of imagery, multimedia, and educational resources.

NASA TV This NASA website provides links to NASA streaming videos and schedules for NASA broadcast programs.

European Space Agency missions page This page provides links to current and planned missions and data from the European Space Agency.

Exploring the Planets Smithsonian's National Air & Space MuseumÕs interactive tutorial on planetary exploration.

The Planetary Society The Planetary Society is non-governmental and nonprofit organization focused on space exploration through advocacy, projects, and education. Today, the Society is the largest and most influential public space organization group. It is dedicated to exploring the solar system and seeking life beyond Earth. Carl Sagan was one of its founders. This is a website that provides some interesting links to updates from various agencies interested in space missions.


NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

Grade 1
ESS1.A: The Universe and its Stars Patterns of the motion of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, and predicted.
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System Seasonal patterns of sunrise and sunset can be observed, described, and predicted.

Grade 5
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System The orbits of Earth around the sun and of the moon around Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns. These include day and night; daily changes in the length and direction of shadows; and different positions of the sun, moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year.

Middle School
ESS1.A: Patterns of the apparent motion of the sun, the moon, and stars in the sky can be observed, described, predicted, and explained with models. Earth and its solar system are part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of many galaxies in the universe.
ESS1.B: The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them. This model of the solar system can explain eclipses of the sun and the moon. Earth's spin axis is fixed in direction over the short-term but tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. The seasons are a result of that tilt and are caused by the differential intensity of sunlight on different areas of Earth across the year. The solar system appears to have formed from a disk of dust and gas, drawn together by gravity.

High School
ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System Kepler's laws describe common features of the motions of orbiting objects, including their elliptical paths around the sun. Orbits may change due to the gravitational effects from, or collisions with, other objects in the solar system.

Common Scientific Misconceptions

The orbit of the Earth is a highly eccentric elipse around the Sun.

Phases of the Moon are caused by a shadow from the Earth.

Planets cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Planets appear in the sky in the same place every night.

Astrology is able to predict the future.

The Sun goes around the Earth.


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