My youngest daughter is in Daisy Scouts (the youngest set within Girl Scouts of America), and today it was our turn to lead the meeting. So, being the space nerds that we are, she and I decided to do a space-themed meeting. If you’re leading a troop, maybe you can try out our activities too. 😉 It was a great deal of fun, and the kids came up with some great questions.
First, we explored the relative size of the planets by making a collage with an 8″ sun and planets (roughly) to scale. The sun was an 8″ half-circle (since it took up too much of the paper to have a full circle Sun) in self-adhesive foam. Mercury was a single dot with a pen. Venus was the smallest size pompom we could find — 0.19″, which realistically is actually too big. Earth was another 0.19″ pompom. Mars was another pen dot. Then Jupiter was a 1″ pompom, Saturn was a 0.75″ pompom with a circle drawn around it with a pen (though one girl was creative enough to have hers tilted on it side!), Uranus and Neptune were both 0.39″ pompoms (slightly too big, but close enough for our purposes), and Pluto was another tiny dot. We glued the pompoms on, so now we set this aside to dry.
After that, we made Moons on a Stick. This is pretty simple; take a styrofoam ball, jab a stick into it (glue with styrofoam glue if it doesn’t stay), and then decorate it to your heart’s content. One girl covered hers with colored tape; another made the Man in the Moon on the nearside and craters on the farside, and another decided to do a Woman in the Moon. 😉 This we then set aside for later.
Then we made planispheres, or star wheels. These are very simple devices that you can use to tell where the stars will be in the sky any night of the year, and they’re easy enough for first-graders to assemble. Get the downloadable printouts from Create Your Own Planisphere, although we found you don’t really need to glue it to cardboard; just regular paper is plenty stiff.
Finally, we went outside. It was cold, unfortunately, so we couldn’t linger. We brought our Moon Sticks with us, and spun around to see how the phases change in the sunlight; the Moon is full tonight, so it was not available for people to look at for comparison during the afternoon event. I encouraged the girls to look for the Moon in a couple of weeks when it will be half-full. We explored why the Moon has phases, and how it depends on where the Moon is in relation to the Sun and Earth — if you’re doing this, pretend your head is the Earth, and hold the Moon Stick out in front of you as you slowly turn around. If the Moon is up, you can hold the Moon Stick in its direction and see that they have the same phase, since they’re lit by the same Sun.
Next we tried to see the Sun through my filtered telescope, but unfortunately some clouds arrived and put a stop to that. We settled for looking at the Sun using the Your Sun app on my smartphone. And then we did a Solar System Walk. In deference to the cold air and the young kids, we did ours on a scale where 300 feet brought us to the position of Voyager 1, at the heliopause. The girls were amazed at how close the planets were at the beginning and how far apart at the end, and how very far away they were at the end from their mothers back at the Sun! Then, since everybody was cold and a bit antsy, I had them all become comets and run back to the Sun. 😉 If you want to do this activity, here are the positions we used. Note: since I only had a 100′ tape measure, once we get out to Pluto we have to start hop-frogging.
Object Model Real, thousands of km Sun 0" 0 Mercury 11" 57,910 Venus 1' 9" 108,200 Earth & Moon 2' 4" 149,600 Mars 3' 7" 227,940 Vesta 5' 7" 353,320 Ceres 6' 6" 413,900 Jupiter 12' 3" 778,300 Saturn 22' 7" 1,429,400 Uranus 45' 4" 2,870,990 New Horizons 68' 3" 4,315,899 (as of 3/15/14) Neptune 71' 2" 4,504,300 Pluto 93' 5" 5,913,520 Eris 160' 8" 10,162,500 Voyager 2 246' 15,557,000 (as of 2/7/14) Voyager 1 300' 18,978,000 (as of 2/7/14) Pluto to Eris: 67' 3" Eris to Voyager 2: 85' 2" Voyager 2 to Voyager 1: 154' (so we just used the end of the 300' walkway)