How long would it take to travel to the Moon? Could you travel to the edge of the Solar System and beyond? In this activity students learn about the size of the Solar System, beginning with the Earth and Moon and reaching out to encompass the entire Solar System.
1. Ask for two volunteers, one will hold the globe the other will hold the "Moon". Ask the group how far they think the Moon lies from the Earth. The volunteers should move closer or farther apart as directed.
2. Let the students guess a few times, then explain that you could fit 30 Earths into the space between the Moon and the Earth! It is 239,000 miles!
3. Measure the diameter of the globe you are using and ask the students to multiply this number by 30. Measure the distance on the floor to demonstrate the exact distance to scale. How long do the students think it takes to travel this distance in a rocket?
In 1969 it took the astronauts over 4 days to travel to the Moon. Today, the fastest rocket in the world is called New Horizons. New Horizons travels at amazing speeds of around 36,373 miles per hour.
4. Ask your students to work out how long it would take to travel to the Moon aboard New Horizons.
239,000 ÷ 36,373 = 6.57 hours
5. Now ask the students what is the closest object to the Earth beyond the Moon. In the next part of the activity they will learn the size of the Solar System by measuring the distances between the planets.
6. Get a piece of string and either draw a thick stripe or place a sticker on the string near one end. This will represent the Sun.
7. Now use the values in the table below to demonstrate the distances between the planets in the Solar System
|Planet||Distance from Sun (miles)||Distance (cm)|
|Mercury||35 000 000||3.5|
|Venus||67 000 000||6.7|
|Earth||93 000 000||9.3|
|Mars||142 000 000||14.2|
|Asteroid Belt||297 000 000||29.7|
|Jupiter||484 000 000||48.4|
|Saturn||889 000 000||88.9|
|Uranus||1 790 000 000||179|
|Neptune||2 880 000 000||288|
|Pluto/ Kuiper belt||3 670 000 000||367|
Students demonstrating the distances between the planets in our Solar System.
Now the students have an idea how long it takes to travel between the planets, and the stars are even farther away. Travelling in New Horizons, it would take almost 30 million years to travel to the nearest star. Obviously this isn’t possible in one lifetime, but luckily for us we have telescopes. Telescopes are our only real instrument for studying the Universe beyond the Solar System.
Use the LCOGT telescopes or image gallery to explore the distant Universe; take a look at the variety of astronomical objects that we don’t find in our Solar System, from star clusters, to clouds of colourful cosmic gas and giant galaxies.