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Paper Plate Education
"Serving the Universe on a Paper Plate"

Activity: Planet Pointer

The following is excerpted from GLPA Proceedings, 1992, p. 81-82; used with permission:

Objective:  To make a paper plate model of the solar system showing the position of the planets and use it to find where in the sky you need to look to see the planet.


....   A paper plate for each student



       blank paper or 1/4 of a paper plate per student

       current information (Astronomy Magazine)

Before doing this refer to the current map of the planets found in the center of Astronomy Magazine, in the Observer's Handbook, or in Guy Ottewell's excellent calendar.  Use a protractor to measure degrees or guess the cardinal directions.  If you use Ottewell's calendar, you have the constellations around the edge of the plate.  Use Sagittarius as '0' degrees as it represents the center of our Milky Way galaxy and will tie in with the paper plate activity building the galaxy.

"Fold your plate in fourths or use the 1/4 plate you have.  On the straight edge mark out the distance to the planets."  [Do Astronomy Lesson #10 if you have not done so.]  "Mark around the edge in degrees."  [Use hours or cardinal directions for young students.]  "Mark the center with a dot for the Sun.  Now I will tell you the direction from the center the planet is located.  Use your measuring tool to get it the right distance.  Place a dot and write the name next to the dot to remember which one the dot represents."  [With older students use the symbols for the planets.]

"Now take the plate outside in the daytime.  We are on the earth and we can tell which direction the sun is located.  Lay your pencil across the plate with the point at the center and the rest of the pencil passing over the dot for the Earth.  Hold the pencil and plate so the eraser end is toward you and the point is toward the sun.  Don't look at the sun as it will damage your eyes!  Keeping your plate in the same position, change the pencil to point to one of the planets, and your pencil is now pointing the direction you would have to look to see the planet.  If it is pointing to the ground, the planet is blocked by the Earth now.  Do this at sundown and you should be able to see the planet if it is in the sky.  You will need binoculars for Uranus and Neptune as they are so far away.  You might also need them for Mercury as it is always close to the Sun and hidden in the twilight near the setting or rising sun except for brief periods when it is farthest away from the sun in it's orbit.  Pluto can only be seen in a big telescope and then you have to view it more than one time to see the faint point of light moving among the stars.

Contributed by Wayne James.


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