ISTAT Banner

The Planets

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 planets are of two main types: terrestrial and gas giants.
  • Planet size, composition, density and orbits vary from the Sun outward.
  • Conditions on planets vary as a result of distance from the Sun and composition. 

Given the wealth of planetary science materials available today, educators should define a theme or focus for their unit, guided by the appropriate standards.

This topic applies to California state standards 1a and 1d in 9th grade Earth Science. Various activities apply to CA state standard 1c  as well. 

Science Probe Text
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 13C

Comparing the Planets
book Students use a table of planetary facts and figures to answer discussion questions.

Activities & Lessons
Activity Access Description

Best of the Solar System


webpaper A lesson from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Science Education Gateway teacher resource center. Students learn to describe and interpret what they see in high-quality research images of planets and moons.  When they group similar descriptions, the families of planets: earth like and gas giants, emerge.

C-7 Venus Topography Box

Universe at Your Fingertips ASP* 

book How to "see" the surface of Venus through the clouds.  Students use a model called a topography box. They cover the box with a lid, and sample the depth of the surface beneath the lid with a calibrated "probe."

Comparing the size and density of the planets and their moons

nix from SS origins page

Ball State University

webpaper This is a teacher's guide from the Messages from Outer Space Online Web site.  Students make and interpret  graphs  to analyze common characteristics of the planets and their moons. With data, instructions, and discussion questions.



webpaper Students can complete any of 6 worksheets about comparative conditions on Mars and Earth, including topics on seasons, weather, storms, remote sensing, and life on Mars.
C-16.Tracking Jupiter's Moons

More Universe at Your Fingertips ASP* 

book Students look at nine nights of observations and construct a graph that allows them to calculate the orbital periods of Jupiter's large moons.

Planetary Geology Teacher's Guide

NASA SpaceLink

paper Activities and background information on the geology of planets and moons and how we explore other worlds.  Cross-curriculum materials for Earth Science.  Download/print PDF format.

*Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Ordering info $$

**Science Education Gateway, UC Berkeley

***Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Resources Access Description
Cassini/Huygens Teachers Page

NASA/Cassini Mission

web Cassini/Huygens is a probe to Saturn and Titan. Includes classroom activities online, printable guides and activities to download for hands-on work, and links to student involvement projects.

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 cosponsored by Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

Views of the Solar System

Calvin J. Hamilton
web Has statistics, animations, and views of the planets, including interiors of the Earth.
Useful for students and teachers. Has a number of activities, including icosehedron maps of several planets. Makes extensive use of images, which may be slow in loading.  Scroll down to get advertising banners off the page.

Mars Exploration Curriculum


webpaper A four-part curriculum on Martian planetary science, developed by TERC (an educational consulting firm) and Mars scientists at JPL. Each module has several (5-8) activities which provide evidence for students to make hypotheses and plan studies of conditions on Mars.  Good comparative planetary  science.

Ephemeris Generator

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

 web Generates the coordinates (Right Ascension and Declination) of a solar system body at a given time, using the observer's position (latitude and longitude). Contains a lookup table of many city positions.

The Great Magnet, Earth


web This Web site commemorates the 400th anniversary of the publication of "De Magnete" by William Gilbert. The site emphasizes the evolution of scientists' understanding of the magnetic field.
This site is appropriate for either teachers or students.