The Universe in the Classroom

Exploring Venus

Resource Corner

Selected Readings

Beatty, J.: "Report from a Torrid Planet" in Sky & Telescope, May 1982,p.452.

Chapman, C.: "The Vapors of Venus and Other Gassy Envelopes" in Mercury, Sep/Oct 1983, p. 130.

Cordell, E3.: "Venus" in Astronomy, Sep. 1982, p. 6. Hunt. G. & Moore, P.: The Planet Venus (Faber 8L Faber. 1982)

Sagan, Carl: "Heaven and Hell" in Cosmos (1980, Random House) — This eloquent chapter from the best-selling book compares Earth and Venus.

Weaver, K.: "Mariner Unveils Venus and Mercury" in National Geographic, June 1975.

Slide Sets

The Solar System Close-Up (130 of the best spacecraft views of the planets and satellites. with detailed nontechnical captions) — available from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Pioneer at Venus (5 slides) — available from Hansen Planetarium


Venus Pioneer (1979, 28 min. # NAV-042, available from NASA Audio-Visual offices around the country.)

The Solar System (1980, 20 min, National Geographic Society)

The Solar Svstem (1982, 28 min, International Film Bureau)

Close-up of the Planets (1982, 20 min, Walt Disney Educational Media)

Activity Corner: "Scaling Down The Solar System"

by John R. Percy, University of Toronto

The contemplation of distances in the universe is enough to strain and boggle the mind. It is one of the most fascinating but difficult aspects of astronomy. The following scale model may help to clarify matters for student and teacher alike. It is based on the scale of 1 to 3,000,000,000. On this scale, the Earth would be represented by a pea, and the Moon by a grain of sand 13 cm. away. (This then represents the distance which was traversed by the astronauts on the Apollo moon missions.) The inner part of the model can be set up in and around the school yard, but the outer part cannot. In fact, the nearest star on this scale would be on the opposite side of the Earth! The stars in our Milky Way galaxy would stretch all the way across the Earth's orbit, and the nearest large galaxy to our own (M31 — the Andromeda galaxy) would be on the edge of our solar system! You could make the scale ten times smaller, so that the solar system would fit within the school yard, but then the Earth would shrink to the size of a grain of sand.

When you set up your model, remember that the planets lie more or less in a plane (as they will in your model) but they do not generally lie in a line — so try not to put them that way. The nearest star is not in the same plane as the planets. The students can do some research on where it will lie in your model.

You can have older students try to fit other well known astronomical distances to this scale or experiment with changing the scale in different ways. Younger students will have an instructive time laying out the inner solar system in the classroom and outside and seeing where the limits of the school area can take them in the solar system.

Represented by a
  million km meters thousand km millimeters  
Sun n/a n/a 1392 464 beach ball
Mercury 58 19 4.9 1.6 sand grain
Venus 108 36 12.1 4.0 pea
Earth 150 50 12.8 4.3 pea
Mars 228 76 6.8 2.3 rice grain
Jupiter 778 259 143 48 golf ball
Saturn 1430 477 120 40 pingpong ball
Uranus 2870 967 51 17 grape
Neptune 4500 1500 49 16 grape
Pluto 5900 1970 3 1 sand grain
Nearest Star 40x106 13300 km 1400 465 beach ball

These distances and diameters are taken from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada's Observer's Handbook for 1985, edited by Roy L. Bishop.

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