Target Age Group
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 ]