Solar System in Your Neighborhood

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Target Age Group
Middle School

Ojbective
Students will understand the immense distances between the planets by converting them to a scale where the Earth is a basketball, the Moon is a tennis ball, and the Sun is in their neighborhood.

You will need
Computer with Internet service

What to do
1. To make a solar system in your neighborhood, first go to Google Earth and find your home or school.

2. Decide where you would like the Sun to be. Put a marking pin there with the Placemark tool (which looks like a push pin) and label it “Sun.”

3. Refer to the Scale Planet distance table (below). Use the Ruler function in Google Earth to find a point as far from the Sun as the planet that you want to place. Try to find a town or some other landmark at the appropriate distance. When you have found a good place, put a marker there and label it.

4. Zoom and tilt your view of the world so that you can clearly see the Sun and the planet.

5. Take a screen shot of your view. For example, on a PC press “Print Screen.”

6. Paste your screen shot into a document. You can use PowerPoint or the equivalent free open-source software.

7. Keep adding planets until your solar system is complete. If you were going to take a trip from your Google Earth Sun to Pluto, how many Earth miles would that be?

What's Going On?
If Earth is a Basketball, the average distances between the Sun and the planets are:

(At this scale a light year (63,000 AU) is 63,000 x 1.8 miles. The nearest star is about 5 light years away or more than 300,000 miles at the scale where the Earth is only as big as a basketball. The Earth-Sun distance, ~93 million miles or 8 light minutes, is known to astronomers as 1 AU or 1 Astronomical Unit. )

*Ceres, Pluto and Eris are the planets newly classified as “Dwarf Planets.”

Learn more about dwarf planets at by clicking here

Download complete guide as [PDF ]