Math Challenge: Representing Scale in the Solar System

Mr. Loar’s math students were recently presented with a unique challenge: represent the distance between the planets in our universe in the 3rd floor hallway of Linden Grove School.

Students first viewed a video of Bill Nye the Science Guy who demonstrated the distance between planets by biking 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) across a barren plain.



Then students were asked to scale the solar system down even further – down to the length of a school hallway. Consider:

  • Mercury is 36,000,000 miles from the sun (3.6 x 107 using exponents)
  • Pluto is 3,700,000,000 miles from the sun (3.7 x 109 using exponents)

If one can write the distance from each planet to the sun using exponents, the next challenge is to consider how to represent the distances: what happens if one uses inches or feet? What about floor tiles Post-it® notes or even paper clips?

If you were to represent the solar system on a football field:

  • The sun, at the goal line, would be about the size of a dime
  • Mercury, the size of a grain of sand, would be just under a yard from the goal line
  • Venus would be 1.4 from the end zone
  • Earth would be on the 2 yard line
  • Mars is on the 3 yard line
  • Jupiter on the 10.5 yard line
  • Saturn is on the field at 19 yards
  • Uranus is at 38 yards (just beyond field goal range)
  • Neptune is 60 yards from the goal line
  • Pluto is 79 yards out

This is simply another example of a hands-on activity related not only to a specific class (math) but also to other subjects (science) and also encouraging “soft” skills such as creativity, critical thinking and visioning.

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