Human-powered Orrery

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In this space science activity, learners work together to create a human-powered orrery to model the movements of the four inner planets. Learners assist in setting up this moving model of the Solar System and take turns playing the roles of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. As learners observe the orrery in motion, they form conclusions about the orbital periods of the inner planets. Please scroll down to links below for guides (links may be broken on activity landing page). Some files retrieved from

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • overhead projector or computer with large-screen monitor or LCD projector
  • Space Science Sequence CD-ROM (optional)
  • prepared key concept sheets from the copymaster packet or CD-ROM file (optional)
  • transparency of the map with outer planet orbits drawn in (from Session 3.9, optional)
  • a 2.5 meter piece of thin rope or string (made out of material that is not stretchy)
  • 36 meters (120') of rope (e.g. cotton clothesline, optional)
  • 5 index cards (4 in x 6 in)
  • marble or bead, close to 1.4 cm in diameter
  • several rolls of masking tape or blue painter's tape or chalk
  • scratch paper
  • pencils


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
    • Solar System
      • The Sun
      • The Planets
  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
      • Circles
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Light and Optics
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Model Building
  • Physical Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access