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Project Ideas
Looking for more ways to make the solar system a star attraction? Here are eight ideas that you can turn into individual or classroom projects.
Check out Solar System Teachers A-Z Resource Guide which includes similar activities.
  1. Spaced Out!
    Make a football-sized model of the solar system, using an orange for the sun. Place it on one goal line. Using a scale of 1 yard to 10 million miles, Mercury would be about halfway between the 3- and 4-yard lines. Now determine the position of the other planets. (Note: Although the yard lines on a football field go from 0 to 50 and back to 0, treat them as 100 continuous yard lines.)
  2. Catch Some Rays.
    Grab some sun on a cloudy day with a thin piece of cardboard, a sheet of white paper, a pen, and the help of a friend. Punch a hole in the cardboard with the tip of the pen. While your friend holds the cardboard in direct sunlight, hold the paper in the cardboard's shadow. Look for a small, white circle?it's an upside-down image of the sun! Focus the image by moving the cardboard forward or back. When a cloud passes in front of the sun, you'll see the cloud's shadow cross the your sun image in the opposite direction. Remember: Never look directly at the sun!
  3. Mount Chocolate.
    Here's a sweet way to learn more about the mountains on Venus and Mars. Gather Hershey Kisses? or other chocolate candies. To represent Mars, freeze a few of then on a plate. Set others on a plate in direct sunlight to represent Venus. For Earth, leave a third batch at room temperature. Check back later, and put your mini-mountains to the test by answering these four questions: Are they all the same "altitude" (height)? Have any changed shape? What other differences do you see? What happens when you tilt the plates?
  4. A Fine Mess.
    Pretend a scientist has discovered that a killer asteroid will hit the Earth in a matter of weeks, but no one knows exactly where. What would you do if you were in charge of preparing the world for the impact? Create a three-part plan to divert the space rock, lessen its impact, and save as many lives as possible.
  5. Scope It Out.
    Galileo's telescope was advanced for its time, but primitive compared to what we have today. Circling in space is the Hubble Space Telescope. Log onto its Web site at http://oposite.stsci.edu/pubinfo/pictures.html and view close-ups of the planets and stars. Research the subject of your favorite photo, and write a report about what new information the Hubble photographs have given scientists.
  6. Venus Vacation.
    Pretend you're on spring break and your family decides to head to Venus. What would you like to do there? What would it be like? What would you have to bring? Soak in the Venusian facts in this book and other references. Then write a detailed travelogue for your friends back home.
  7. It Weighs What?
    Jupiter is only about one-fourth as dense as Earth, but it's 300 times as heavy. If it were as dense, it would be 1,200 times as heavy. Get a feel for how the weight of a hollow object varies when filled with different substances. Take two uninflated beach balls the same size. Weigh them to make sure they're the same. Cut a small slit in each one. Fill one with water, close the slit with sealing tape, and weigh it. Subtract the ball's weight from the weight of the water. Now fill the other ball with substances such as sand and shredded paper. Compare the density of these substances to the water.
  8. Hello Again, Halley!
    Halley's comet zooms by Earth regularly, about every 76 years. Reports from ancient China indicate that stargazers saw it in 240 B.C. The comet made its most recent an appearance in 1986. Pretend Halley's comet has returned. How old will you be? What will your life be like? Make a mockup of the front page of a newspaper that might be published on the day Halley's comet returns.