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Solar System Science Project to Make with the Kids

written by: Jonathan Hamilton•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 5/20/2011

The time may come when you need a great science project idea either for school or just for fun at home. One of the easiest and most fun projects to undertake is to make a Solar System at home with your kids. They'll learn more about the planets and the results will be out of this world!

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    Your Own Solar System with Paper Mache

    There are several ways you can use to make one, but one of the most fun and best looking ways is to create your Solar System out of paper mache. You should have most of the ingredients you'll need already in the house.

    The materials you'll need are:

    Solar System 

    Water

    Flour

    Large mixing bowl

    Measuring cup

    Newspaper

    A round form (balloons, crumpled tinfoil, Styrofoam balls, etc.)

    Multiple paint colors and brushes

    Something to use as a base for the Solar System (cardboard, wood, etc.)

    • Strong tape or glue (a product called, Fabri-Tac Permanent Adhesive will do the trick)

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    Making Paper Mache

    In order to begin, you need to create the paste that will hold everything together. Mix the flour and water together in a large mixing bowl, making sure to measure about twice the amount of water as flour. You want your paste to be nice and thick, but still a bit runnier than normal glue. Making the paste is easy, though it can get a bit messy; make sure you have plenty of paper towels handy for quick clean up.

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    Making the Planets and the Sun

    There are several possible objects you can use to make your planet forms before you cover them in paper mache. Round balloons, balls of tinfoil, Styrofoam balls, or anything else that is round and sturdy enough to surround with paper mache can provide an ideal form to work with. Just make sure to have several sizes for your different planets. You don't want a gas giant looking the same size as a planet like Mercury!

    PIA03153-browse 

    You can make your Sun the same way, but, if you're feeling particularly creative, you can purchase a small battery powered light to serve as the Sun. Some craft stores even sell light orbs which are ideal for a glowing Sun. This can make your Solar System really come alive; just make sure the light isn't so hot that it will interfere with the paper mache paste.

    Once you have your planet molds ready, cut the newspaper into strips about an inch and a half to two inches wide; dip them in your paste and start applying the strips to each form. Keep the newspaper as tight to the form as you can to avoid too many wrinkles or bulges. Once you've covered all your planets, you'll need to wait around 24 hours for the first layer of paper mache to dry.

    Adding another layer will make your model stronger and better able to withstand being handled. Apply the next layer and wait another 24 hours for it to dry. If you wish, you can apply a third layer for even more strength, but at this point you and your child may be too tired out from applying layers to eight planets and a Sun to want to do a third layer. It is ultimately up to you.

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    Painting

    This is the really fun part. Once the mache is properly dried, break out the paint and paintbrushes and begin painting all of your planets! Like with the paste, this part of the activity can get really messy, so make sure you have your work area well covered. Make sure to stick to the basic color scheme of each planet, but be creative within those color schemes. You may want to invest in a couple of smocks or aprons to keep your clothing from getting irrevocably stained. Washable paint may also be a wise investment.

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    Attaching the Base

    You are now ready to set up your Solar System. Using a strong cardboard or even wood for the base is recommended to provide a sturdy enough surface for moving the model around, especially if the model has to be taken to school. If you want, you can paint the base to look like outer space.

    Use a strong glue or tape to affix your planets to the base to ensure your planets stay in place when they are being transported.

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    If You're Feeling Ambitious - Extra Details

    You can expand on your model by including a few celestial bodies that don't include the Sun and eight planets. Our Solar System has a large Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter that can be created by crumpling small pieces of tinfoil and affixing them to the board them with glue or tape. You can also add the three identified Dwarf Planets of our Solar System by using the same planet making system described above, only making them quite a bit smaller. Ceres, the smallest Dwarf Planet, lies between Mars and Jupiter in the Asteroid Belt, and Pluto and Eris lie beyond Neptune at the outer edges of our System.

    You can also make a ring for Saturn by cutting newspaper in a round shape that can fit around your Saturn model and applying some of your mache paste to it to keep it from drooping. Once dried, simply paint the ring to look like several rings. Last, glue the ring around the planet.

    Kids- be sure to do this project with an adult! Have fun!

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    Sources

    Paper Mache Recipe - http://familycrafts.about.com/od/papermache/a/nocookpmpaste.htm

    Paper Mache Forms - http://familycrafts.about.com/cs/papermache/a/blpmsupp.htm

    Dwarf Planets - http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Dwarf

    Examples of Glowing Orbs Available For Purchase - http://www.save-on-crafts.com/chrisligandl.html

    Images:

    http://nai.arc.nasa.gov/seminars/82_Meyer/solarsystem.jpg

    http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/multimedia/gallery/PIA03153-browse.jpg