The wide expanse of our universe is almost unfathomable. Here’s a fun activity you can do to put it into perspective! We did this activity with the help of the National Park Service, Jr. Rangers.
To do this activity, you’ll need an orange (the sun), and 9 small rocks (the planets. For fun, you could paint the rocks to look like the different planets before doing this activity!). If you want to have each planet to scale with the sun, you can use the items listed on the bottom of this page. You’ll need to adjust the distance between planets accordingly. For this demonstration, we’re going to just use rocks, and demonstrate the distance of each planet to the sun.
Here we go!
- Start in the corner of a very large field, or at the beginning of a long trail. Put your orange (sun) down.
- Now, let’s walk 4 steps. We’ve arrived at Mercury! Set down a rock.
- Walk another 4 steps. Now we’ve arrived at Venus!
- Set down another rock, and walk 4 more steps. Welcome home, you’ve arrived at Earth!
- Now, walk another 6 steps, until you reach Mars. Put down a rock, and consider that this might be the next planet that humans inhabit!
- Now, get ready to hike! You’re going to walk 45 steps to arrive at Jupiter. By now, the sun is just a dull glow.
- Walk another 54 steps, and you’ve arrived at Saturn.
- Walk 118 steps, and put a rock down, you’re now on the cold planet of Uranus.
- We’re almost to the (current) end of the solar system. Walk 134 steps, and you’ve reached the final planet of Neptune!
Hooray, you did it! You mapped the solar system. Consider this: To take a rocket full of people and materials to Mars, it’d take 18 years! That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
What about Pluto? Well, if you want to walk to Pluto, just hike another 115 steps, and you’re there! Of course, recently Pluto was deemed to be a “minor planet”. Why did that happen? Because Pluto doesn’t have a perfectly round orbit, and it has to pass through a debris field while it’s orbiting.
Here are some fun resources for you to use as you explore outer space:
- A super fun song by They Might Be Giants
- A website with great details about space for kids
- A really fantastic astronomy book
- A few more great books about space
- Check out a 3-D interactive model of the solar system
- See real footage from Spirit and Opportunity on Mars!