Models of planets, comets and the Sun

The solar system consists of the Sun, eight planets and a large number of smaller objects (dwarf planets, asteroids, moons, comets, small bodies and dust particles). Theoretically, the ninth planet, located behind the orbit of Neptune, was predicted, but its existence is not yet proven.Images of the solar system available on the Internet and in the literature are usually in two different scales (one scale is used for the dimensions of bodies, the other one for distances from the Sun). The use of two scales gives the impression of the solar system being vastly populated by mass. But it is a much distorted notion. Unfortunately, this distortion is necessary. If we wanted to draw the solar system completely on one scale so that the drawing would fit on a sheet of A4 paper (distance the Sun – Neptune 30 cm), the Sun’s diameter would be about 0.1 mm and the diameter of the Earth would be invisible of roughly 0.001 mm.

The best way how to create an idea of the real dimensions and distances in the solar system for pupils is to build a model. The model of the solar system assembled from fruits, nuts and spices is very illustrative:

If the sun had the dimensions of a giant pumpkin, then the giant planets can be depicted as a grapefruit, an orange and two small mandarins, we model small planets with the use of two nuts and two peas. The distances of individual objects in this model are very surprising for pupils. The distance of the last planet from the Sun would be about 3 km. It is as if we placed only one giant pumpkin, 4 citruses, 2 nuts and 2 peas in the whole area of the town of Pardubice.

Pic 78: Dimensions of solar system bodies on a scale

In order to activate the motor skills of pupils, planets can be modelled from newspapers and starch. For larger planets and the Sun, we use a wire skeleton. The dimensions of the bodies and their distance from the Sun are shown in Table 1 below. (The value in brackets at Saturn is the diameter of its rings.)

Table 1: The real dimensions and distances of the planets and the Sun

Body Diameter (km) Distance from the Sun (km) Distance from the Sun(au)
the Sun 1.400.000 0 0
Mercury 4.879 58.000.000 0,4
Venus 12.103 108.000.000 0,7
Earth 12.756 150.000.000 1
Mars 6.792  228.000.000 1,5
Jupiter 143.000 778.000.000 5,2
Saturn 120.000 (420.000) 1.427.000.000 9,5
Uranus 51.000 2.870.000.000 19
Neptune 50.000 4.498.000.000 30