Grades 6-8 Activities

You may wish to use these activities before, during, and after your Museum visit to focus your experience around an educational theme.



NYS Science Core Curriculum
Major Understandings
Physical Setting 1.1a
• Earth's Sun is an average-sized star. The Sun is more than a million times greater in volume than the Earth.
Physical Setting 1.1c
• The Sun and the planets that revolve around it are the major bodies in the Solar System.
Online Video: Journey to the Stars Trailer and Prelude
To prepare for your Museum visit, watch the trailer and the prelude with your students.

Class Discussion: Solar System
Review with students the structure of the Solar System. Ask them:

• What is at the center of the solar system?
Answer: The Sun, our star, is at the center of the Solar System.

• What types of planets are there and where are they found?
Answer: There are four inner, rocky planets that orbit closest to the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Beyond the Asteroid Belt, the four outer, gas giant planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The Kuiper Belt contains Pluto and other small icy objects. This area of the Solar System begins just inside Neptune's orbit and extends well beyond it.

• What is the largest planet? Answer: Jupiter
The smallest? Answer: Mercury
The furthest from the Sun? Answer: Neptune
The closest? Answer: Mercury

• Which is larger: the Sun or the planets? Answer: The Sun.
How much of a size difference do you think there is?
Answers may vary depending on students' prior knowledge: the Sun is about one million times larger by volume than Earth. This will be addressed in the Scales of the Universe Activity.

NOTE: Distribute copies of the Student Worksheet before coming to the Museum.
Online Video: New Horizons Mission to Pluto
Watch this Science Bulletins video with your class. Ask students to describe what scientists are doing to find out more about the distant reaches of our Solar System.
Answers may include: Scientists are sending the New Horizons spacecraft to the outer reaches of the Solar System to send back images of Pluto and other objects like it.


TIP: Please plan to arrive at the 1st floor space show boarding area 15 minutes before the show starts.
Journey to the Stars Planetarium Space Show (30 minutes)
Before the show, prompt students to do the following:

• Several times during the show, the Sun will be shown along with planets and moons in the Solar System. Notice the relative distances and sizes of these objects.

Planet models inside the Hayden Sphere.
(click to enlarge)
Scales of the Universe: Investigate Sizes and Distances of Celestial Objects (25-30 minutes)
When you exit the planetarium show (3rd floor), take the escalator down to the 2nd floor and walk through the gift shop towards the glass windows. You are now on the Scales of the Universe Walkway. Turn left and walk around the central Hayden Sphere (with the glass windows on your right) to the area that displays the planet models—some of the planets are suspended above you (look for Saturn and Jupiter), while others are mounted on the railing.

1. Investigate Sizes of Planets (Use Student Worksheet)

Stars and Their Sizes
(click to enlarge)
Draw students' attention to all eight planet models. Remind students that the 87-foot Hayden Sphere represents the size of the Sun. Ask students to observe the planets' relative sizes. Read planet information provided on the accompanying panels, and use that information to complete their worksheets.

2. Investigate Sizes of Stars
After students have completed their worksheets, have them walk back a few steps to explore the panel "Stars and Their Sizes," as well as the models above the panel. Explain that the Hayden Sphere now represents the red supergiant star Rigel, and that one of the models represents the size of our Sun in this new scale. Draw their attention to the other models mounted above, representing different stars. Point out to students that stars can vary in size as planets do.


Wrap-Up Activity: Calculate Planetary Size Differences
Have students refer to their completed worksheets for the question "How many Earths can fit in a hollowed-out Sun?" Have them use information they collected on the planets' sizes together with the following equation for finding the volume of a sphere: v = 4/3 p r3 [v=volume, r=radius] to answer the following questions:

• How many Jupiters could fit in a hollowed-out Sun? Answer*: Over 900 Jupiters

• How many Earths could fit in a hollowed-out Jupiter? Answer*: Over 1200 Earths

Answers to both questions will vary depending on how many digits of pi are used and how much students round off numbers as they work through the equation.

Google Earth
(click to enlarge)
Online Activity: Calculate Planetary Distances
In this activity, students will use Google Earth and an online calculator to create a scale model of the distances among the objects in the Solar System.

Also at the Museum Beyond Planet Earth


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Journey to the Stars Online Educator's Guide