The Thousand-Yard Model

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This is a classic exercise for visualizing the scale of the Solar System. Both the relative size and spacing of the planets are demonstrated in this outdoor exercise, using a mere peppercorn to represent the size of the Earth. This resource includes a complete "script" for demonstrating this activity as well as a tabular summary to show the math.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 6 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Sun - any ball, diameter 8.00 inches (i.e. bowling ball)
  • Mercury - a pinhead, diameter 0.03 inch
  • Venus - a peppercorn, diameter 0.08 inch
  • Earth - a second peppercorn
  • Mars - a second pinhead
  • Jupiter - a chestnut or a pecan, diameter 0.90 inch
  • Saturn - a hazelnut or an acorn, diameter 0.70 inch
  • Uranus - a peanut or coffee bean, diameter 0.30 inch
  • Neptune - a second peanut or coffee bean
  • Pluto - a third pinhead (or smaller, since Pluto is the smallest planet)
  • Pieces of card


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
      • Stars and Galaxies
    • Earth, Moon and Sun
    • Solar System
      • The Sun
      • The Moon
      • The Planets
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Light and Optics
  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
    • Representation

Informal Categories

  • Food and Cooking
  • Model Building
  • Outdoor Activity
  • Physical Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • be mobile

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Ottewell, Guy


Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation