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FL5 Teacher Page: Our Solar System

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Florida Science Standards

SC.5.E.5.2 Recognize the major common characteristics of all planets and compare/contrast the properties of inner and outer planets.
SC.5.E.5.3 Distinguish among the following objects of the Solar System – Sun, planets, moons, asteroids, comets – and identify Earth’s position in it.

Connecting to Other Standards

Both the Making a Scale Model of the Solar System and the Planets and Pennies activities involve using models, which makes them a great time to reinforce SC.4.N.3.1.

Key Concepts:

  • Students should gain an insight into the immense size of the solar system, and our place in it.
  • The definition of a planet recently changed, and may change again. Currently (July 2016), a planet must orbit the Sun, have strong enough gravity to have pulled itself into a round shape, and its gravitational field must have pulled in all of the other small objects in its orbit. That last part was what caused Pluto to lose its status as a planet. Clearing other objects from an orbit was added as we discovered more and more objects in the solar system that fit the previous definition of a planet. Scientists either had to change the definition of a planet or add quite a few new planets (Ceres, Charon, Eris, and possibly quite a few other objects in the solar system as new planets.
  • The inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) have a solid surface, a metallic core made up mostly of iron, and a mantle made up mostly of silicates. They are relatively small, and have very few if any moons.
  • The outer planets are divided into the gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn) which are made up mostly of hydrogen and helium, and the ice giants (Neptune and Uranus) which are made up mostly of water, methane, and ammonia, with thick atmospheres of hydrogen and helium. The outer planets are relatively large, and have many moons.
  • Pluto, along with Ceres, Charon and Eris are now considered to be dwarf planets as they share their orbits with other objects.

Misconception Alert:

Closest Planet: Which planet is closest to the Earth? Beware of this question! Depending on where they are in their orbit around the Sun, the closest planet may be Mars, Venus, or Mercury.

Covering the Basics:

To give your students a basic understanding of this topic, do the following.

  1. If at all possible, do the Making a Model of the Solar System activity. If you do not have the time/space, at least show the video. Doing this activity is an excellent way to impress upon your students the vast size of things. It will also help dispel common misconceptions about the closest planet, etc.

    Click here for materials list.

    You can find the current locations of the planets at : The Planets Today. This is an outside web page, not part of The Happy Scientist website.

    • a roll of string at least 25 meters (80 feet) long
    • one or more colored markers
    • Meter stick or yard stick
    • metal key ring
    • a sturdy stake or rod for the Sun's location. The key ring should be large enough to fit around the rod.
    • 8 or more flags to mark planets and other objects
    • printed copy of the Planetary Data Sheet
    • printed copy of the current locations of the planets
  2. As part of SC.5.E.5.2, do the Planets and Pennies activity. It will show a strong contrast between the inner and outer planets. This also ties in with SC.5.P.13.1

    Click here for materials list.

    • 10 plastic cups (not transparent)
    • labels or paper, tape, and a pen
    • foil
    • $8.70 in pennies
  3. Add more depth to the topic by using the following:
    • How Far is That Planet?
      How do we know how far it is to Mars? Or the Sun? Or another star? This simple activity can be done with no extra materials or prep, and is an excellent way to answer “How do you know?”
    • Why is the Full Moon So Bright?
      This activity also refreshes students on what causes the phases of the moon.
    • Eclipse Watching
      Show your students how to observe a solar eclipse safely.
    • Global Science
      A great review of the Earth, Moon, seasons, etc.

    Nature of Science Potential

    Most of these activities are excellent examples of the use of models in science.

    Fun Facts

    Supporting Standards from Previous Grades

    SC.3.E.5.1 Explain that stars can be different; some are smaller, some are larger, and some appear brighter than others; all except the Sun are so far away that they look like points of light.
    SC.3.E.5.2 Identify the Sun as a star that emits energy; some of it in the form of light.
    SC.3.E.5.3 Recognize that the Sun appears large and bright because it is the closest star to Earth.
    SC.3.E.5.5 Investigate that the number of stars that can be seen through telescopes is dramatically greater than those seen by the unaided eye.
    SC.4.E.5.1 Observe that the patterns of stars in the sky stay the same although they appear to shift across the sky nightly, and different stars can be seen in different seasons.
    SC.4.E.5.2 Describe the changes in the observable shape of the moon over the course of about a month.
    SC.4.E.5.3 Recognize that Earth revolves around the Sun in a year and rotates on its axis in a 24-hour day.
    SC.4.E.5.4 Relate that the rotation of Earth (day and night) and apparent movements of the Sun, Moon, and stars are connected.

    If you need help with science questions, ways to explain or demonstrate concepts, or have a suggestion for an activity, please email me.

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