For Grades 3–8
To arrange a visit for your school group, please call (585) 697-1942.
Solar System 2014 uses outer space as a "hook" for concepts and skills you need to cover: proportion, comparison and contrast, mathematical representation, gathering and organizing data, classification, observation, prediction, decision making. Get an overview of the basics and the most important new discoveries so you can follow news about the Sun, planets, dwarf planets, moons, comets, and asteroids.
NYS Learning Standards: ELA1; MST1(1,2,3); 2(1); 3(4,5); 4PE(1,5); 5(2,4,5,7); 6(1,2,3,6); 7(2); SS1; CDOS1,3a(5),6
Click here to download a complete transcript of the recorded portion (52k pdf)
Outline of the Program
As soon as the students and chaperones are seated, the program presenter greets the audience and briefly introduces the features of the Star Theater, including the Zeiss star projector in the center of the room.
The Rochester sky from day to night
Above a panorama of downtown Rochester, the sun crosses the sky and sets because of Earth's rotation. We note planets visible in the current evening sky (Jupiter through January 2010, Mars beginning in February, Venus and Saturn beginning in April).
Shape of Earth, rotation, revolution
A sped-up video taken by a camera looking down from a real rocket shows how Earth's appearance changes as we climb from ground level to 100 miles up. Then we "travel" still farther away to see that Earth is a ball rotating in space. A moving model of the solar system simulates the view from even farther out. We see how each planet revolves around the sun in its own orbit at its own speed.
We see pictures and videos of telescopes, rockets and spacecraft, the technological tools that bring us our knowledge of the solar system.
Tour of the solar system featuring comparison and contrast
We present the best pictures and key facts about the Sun and the eight major planets, constantly comparing and noting proportions. For example, the Sun is 109 times wider than Earth, while Jupiter is about 11 times wider than Earth.
We demonstrate the use of a table to summarize the similarities and differences between the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars) and the "gas" giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune).
Pluto and small objects
In many ways, Pluto is not like any other planet. When astronomers began to discover other objects like Pluto, they had a problem in classification. Which objects should be called planets? Now Pluto and several other small worlds are called dwarf planets, at least by some astronomers.
We review basic information about asteroids and comets and how they are connected to meteors ("shooting stars") and meteor showers.
Looking to the future, we ponder three of the greatest unsolved mysteries in planetary science: what happened to the water on Mars; whether there might be water under the ice on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, or Enceladus, a moon of Saturn; and what Pluto is really like. We also note that several hundred planets have now been found going around other stars.
The sky tonight
To conclude, we return to the night sky for a tour of currently visible stars and constellations (including the Big Dipper and the North Star) and a review of visible planets.
Links to further information outside the RMSC website
General information about the solar system
NASA's Solar System Exploration home page is a good place to check facts such as the size of a particular planet or moon. For information on recent discussions about the definition of a planet, check the "dwarf planets" section of this site: http://solarsystem.nasa.gov
NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a wonderful resource. Links and searching capabilities make it possible to learn a little or a lot about almost any topic in astronomy or space exploration: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod
To see a moving scale model of the solar system, go to the "Orbit Diagrams" section of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Near Earth Objects web page at http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/orbits. In the blue box labeled "Object designation, Number or Name," type "Pluto" or "Eris" or "Ceres" and click "Submit Query." In the next screen, a Java applet will give you a picture of the solar system. Experiment with the scroll bars, check boxes, motion control buttons and drop-down menus to see accurate representations of planetary motion and orbits in our solar system. Manipulate the model in virtual 3-D space to see, for example, that the orbits of Neptune and Pluto do not intersect.
Some current space flight missions
Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan: see the NASA web site at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov
Mars exploration missions: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov
Messenger mission to Mercury: http://messenger.jhuapl.edu
New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu
Observing the sky
A good site for late-breaking info on meteor showers, eclipses, sunspots, and auroras (northern lights): http://www.spaceweather.com
Do you need to track the phases of the moon? If the sky is cloudy, or if you're in a hurry, you can get an accurate picture of the moon's phase for any date from January 1, 1800 through December 31, 2199 from the U.S. Naval Observatory's Virtual Reality Moon Phase web page. Here's the link: