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Solar System Distance Activity

After this lesson students will understand the distances between the Sun planets, and small bodies in the solar system.

Time Frame: Two 45-minute periods


To create a model demonstrating the scale distances of the solar system using astronomical units that have been converted into a centimeter scale.


1. To speed up the activity for younger students, the string may be pre-cut and a set of solar system beads may be put in a plastic ziplock bag for each student. Also, for younger students, a measured marking grid can be put on a table top so the students can mark their measured distances and then tie on the beads. If the pre-marking method is used, extra distance must be added to each planet distance to accommodate the string within each knot (approx. 4 cm for a double knot around bead). Tape newspapers to the surface where the students will be marking their strings, so they do not mark up the counter or floor.

2. For older students, measurements are made each time from the Sun to the planet and tied on after each measurement.

3. Consider the other solar system models of distance (100 ft. model and size scale models.)

What You Do

  1. Convert the various AU distances to centimeters and complete the chart on the student hand-out sheet.

  2. Measure and cut a piece of string 4.5m long.

  3. Using the calculated cm distances, tie the bead onto the string using a double knot.

  4. Wrap the solar system string (with beads) around the cardboard holder.

Tom Gates--NASA Educator
NASA Ames Research Center

Adapted by Steve Klug
Fees Middle School
Tempe, AZ
And Sheri Klug
ASU Mars K-12 Education Program
Tempe, AZ.

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  What You Need

  • Planet beads (large craft beads (pony beads) in 11 colors:
    Mercury--solid red
    Earth--clear blue
    Mars--clear red
    Asteroid belt--black
    Saturn--clear gold
    Uranus--dark blue
    Neptune--light blue
  • 4.5 meters of string for each student
  • small piece of cardboard to wrap solar system around (10cmx10cm)
  • meter sticks or measuring device
  • student hand-out

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Student Handout