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Origins, Scale, and Composition

Each activity or resource is labeled by access mode:

Requires computer access
Requires downloading from the Web
$$ Order materials and supplies
Main Topics & Concepts
  • The solar system has been continually evolving from its formation 4.6 billion years ago to the present.
  • The Sun by far the largest object in the solar system, and contains 90% of the mass.
  • Size of objects in the solar system covers a wide range.
  • The unit of distance in the solar system is the Astronomical Unit.

This topic applies to California state standard 1b, 1d, and 1f in 9th grade Earth Science. 
Science Probe Text
Science Probe I §16.2 Possible Origin of the Planets, Science Probe I 13.1 The Sun and the Planets, 13.2 A Closer Look at the Planets
Activity Access Description
Science Probe I:
Activity 13A

Your Thoughts About the Solar System
book Encourages students to brainstorm about the solar system, dividing their thoughts into quadrants based on what they think they know, where they would like to travel in the solar system, what the relative scales are between the Earth and moon, and what questions about the solar system they would like to have answered.
Science Probe I:
Activity 13B

A Map of the Solar System
book Students construct a map of the solar system, by cutting out circles of varying diameters to represent the different planets and pasting them on paper tape at the appropriate distance from the Sun.

Activities & Lessons
Activity Access Description

H-2. Cosmic Calendar and Time Line Scale Model of the Age of the Earth

Universe at Your Fingertips, ASP* 

book Students create time-lines of major events in the history of the universe, and in the age of the Earth. 
Move to Cosmology
D. Scale of the Solar System

Universe at Your Fingertips ASP* 

book Eight hands-on activities about the size of the solar system and the objects in it, or relations between specific objects like the Earth and Moon. 
Comparing the size and density of the planets and their moons

Ball State U., IN

paper This is a teacher's guide from the Messages from Outer Space Online Web site. This activity uses graphs and tables for students to analyze common characteristics of the planets and their moons.
This is an alternative to the version in Science Probe I.
Cosmic Chemistry: Planetary Diversity

NASA/Genesis mission

  paper Students make decisions concerning possible patterns in the physical and chemical compositions of planets and their atmospheres. They are encouraged to examine some contemporary models proposed to explain the origin and evolution of the planets. In the final assessment activity students will use these experiences to predict the properties of the "the missing planet" that could have formed in the asteroid belt.
Understanding the Elements

NASA/Genesis Mission

webpaper Students group elements by their characteristics much like Dmitri Mendeleev did. Students interact with others by finding out about elements in particular groups. Genesis scientists want to learn about the building blocks of our solar system. The "Elemental Mysteries for Genesis Scientists" student text presents the questions these scientists are asking. Finally students create mathematical models to explain differences in chemical reactivity among elements. Using their models, students will interpolate characteristics of a hypothetical element in the assessment activity.
Scale in the Solar System

U. Colorado/Dr. Mary Urquhart

web Features activities for making scale models of the solar system, a comet, and a 3-d scale model of Saturn. 

*Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Ordering info $$

Resources Access Description

Meteorites Vol. 1:  Menace from the Sky; Vol. 2:  Witnesses from Beyond the Times

Lunar and Planetary Institute

web $$ Meteorites are used by scientists to discover solar system origins and the birth of stars. Includes mission images, computer animation, panning of photographs, visits to ancient crater sites, and interviews with scientists. ($29.95, high school level, tapes total 84 minutes, 1993.) Site includes order address/phone. web  

Nine Planets' Origin of the Solar System 

by Frank Crary, U. CO Boulder  

web A succinct narrative description of the currently accepted scenario of events that formed today's solar system.  Written for lay readers in straight-forward language.

The Stardust Mission Science Page



web An introduction to studying comets for clues to the original composition of the solar system and Earth. Did comets bring enough organic material to Earth to "jump start" life?
Build Your Own Solar System

U. of Md.

web Program lets you specify the size and type of your star, up to four planets, and eccentricities for the orbits. Output includes information on the composition, temperatures and atmosphere of the resulting planets.

Exploring the Planets


web This on-line gallery at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has information, images, and histories of planetary exploration in a student-friendly site.

Welcome to the Planets


web NASA's Planetary Science Institute site for education, with pages on planets, explorer satellites, and a wealth of the best images. Supplies links to NASA data archives as well.

The Nine Planets

SEDS/Bill Arnett

web One of the first and best, this site at Arizona University's Lunar and Planetary Institute is co-sponsored by Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

Views of the Solar System

Calvin J. Hamilton
web Useful for students and teachers. Has a number of activities, including icosahedron maps of several planets. Pages on the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud extend understanding of the solar system's extent. Scroll down to get advertising banners off the Screen.