Building a model of the solar system is one of the first science projects taught in elementary school. It is one of the various visual ways to teach children about the solar system, the arrangement of the planets and to appreciate a view of a part of the vast universe. Children and adults alike interested in astronomy can start learning about the galaxy through a simple, basic solar system model.
Even with the controversy over whether Pluto is a planet or not and is now classified as a dwarf planet, a basic solar system comprises the Sun in the center, and the planets orbiting around it in the following order: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
Let’s now begin to build your solar system model.
- Picture of the solar system that maps out the position of the planets and their size difference
- 10 Styrofoam balls in the following diameter:
o 1 inch (Pluto)
o 1 1/4 inches (Mercury)
o 1 ½ inches (Mars)
o 2 inches (2 pcs.) (Venus, Earth)
o 2 ½ inches (2 pcs.) (Uranus and Neptune)
o 3 inches (Saturn)
o 4 inches (Jupiter)
o 6 inches (Sun)
- Water-based acrylic paint in various colors
- 18” x 24” Styrofoam board, 1-inch thick
- Pencil and ruler
- Paint brushes
- White glue
- Several toothpicks
- Old newspapers
- Spread sheets of old newspapers on the work table or desk and paint your Styrofoam board in dark blue to simulate the sky. Let it dry.
- Paint the Styrofoam balls according to the colors of the planets. Lay them on some newspapers and allow to dry. Be careful not to place them too close to each other while they are still wet to prevent the colors from mixing.
- When dry, mark the center of the Styrofoam board where the Sun should be placed.
- Next, mark a place for Mercury close to the Sun. Mark the place farthest from the Sun, almost near the edge of the base for Pluto.
- Measure the distance between Mercury and Pluto and divide the space among Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Make sure to mark the places in different angles across the base board and not in a straight line.
- Carefully pry each ball from the newspapers. Stick a toothpick halfway into each ball. Use the side that has touched the newspaper so that any dirt or piece of paper that was stuck can be hidden. Add a dab of white glue on the bottom of the ball and around the toothpick. The other half of the toothpick will anchor the balls onto the base.
- Carefully press down each “planet” into place. Make sure that you have the right order of the planets to complete your solar system.
You can leave your model as is at this point or add each planet’s orbit path with paint or with a marking pen. Lightly draw the paths using a pencil as your guide. To make your toy model stronger, add some water to white glue to make a thin paste and using a clean paint brush, evenly coat each planet and the whole base. As a school group project or for your own personal use, you can continue to add elements to this basic model to make it more realistic – small dots of yellow to represent stars, pinpoint-sized dots of white/gray can represent space debris. Use your imagination.