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Lab 1: Scale of the Solar System

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Lab 1: Scale of the Solar System


Roll of toilet paper or printer tape

Colored markers or pencils (at least two colors)

Measuring tape, ruler, or meter stick


1. Unroll your paper until you have a length that is about equal to your “wingspan” (the length from fingertips to fingertips when you spread your arms apart).

2. On one end of the strip, draw and label the Sun. On the other end, draw and label Pluto. Remember that Pluto is no longer considered a major planet, but it is at the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt.

3. In between the Sun and Pluto, draw and label where you think the rest of the planet orbits are. Also place the asteroid belt. In order to do this, think about the relative distances, or spacing, between the planets.

4. Once you are finished with your estimated positions, take a selfie with your “Solar System”. [If the required selfies are not submitted, a zero will be recorded for the lab.]

5. Use the data table to convert the actual distances between the planets to positions on your strip of paper.

As you can see in the table, the distance between Pluto and the Sun is 5.91 X 109 kilometers.

Measure the length of your strip in centimeters (between the Sun and Pluto). For your conversions, you will use the scale factor:



5.91×10 kilometers

Here is an example of the calculations you will need to do:

If your measured distance between the Sun and Pluto on your strip is 30 cm (it won’t be! It will be much longer than this!), and wanted to see what the scaled distance between the Sun and Mercury is, then you would calculate

( 30cm ) ×(5.83×107km)=0.29cm


5.91×10 km

6. Record the length of your strip of paper here:_142.24_... BETWEEN : 132.08

7. Show your scale factor fraction here:_____132.08/5.91X10^9

8. As you calculate the scaled distances for the planets on your strip, enter that value in the table.

Object Semi-major axis Scaled Distance

(km) Calculated (cm) Sun ----------- -----------

Mercury 5.83 x 107 1.3029

Venus 1.08 x 108 2.4136

Earth 1.50 x 108 3.3523

Mars 2.27 x 108 5.0731

Asteroid Belt 3.28 X 108 to 4.77 7.3303-10.6603

X 108

Jupiter 7.78 x 108 17.3872

Saturn 1.43 x 109 31.9584

Uranus 2.87 x 109 64.1404

Neptune 4.50 x 109 100.5685 Pluto 5.91 x 109 132.08

9. Once your table is complete, use a different color to mark the actual positions of the planets and asteroid belt on your strip. Include a key to indicate which color are your predictions and which are the actual locations. The distances you calculated are how far the planet is from the Sun in centimeters.

10. Take a selfie with your finished Solar System.

11. Answer the Questions below.

12. Submit this lab sheet (with steps 6, 7, the table, and answered Questions) as well as both selfies in the Submission Area for Lab 1 in Module 2. (Paste the selfie images into a

.doc, .docx, or pdf file before submission.) [If no selfies are submitted, a zero will be recorded for the lab.] Questions:

1. Compare your estimated positions to the actual positions. Are there differences? What surprises you most about the differences you see?

Yes, there is a difference in the distance. The first few planets are so much closer to the earth than I thought. It was predictable, but still surprising considering my wingspan size

2. We often refer to the “inner planets” and “outer planets”. Describe the actual positions of the planets on your strip which illustrate this distinction. Where is the “split” between inner and outer planets?

The inner planets are so much closer to the sun. Meanwhile, outer planets are further out and more spread out. The strip that illustrates the distinction is the Asteroid belt. The split is between Mars and Jupiter.

3. Some of the planets much further out than Earth are brighter in Earth’s night sky than planets closer to Earth. What could that tell us about those brighter outer planets?

One reason is because of their size. For example, Jupiter is so large that it reflects a lot of sunlight. This makes it highly visible in the night sky.

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