Physical Science Standard B

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heme: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Title: The Planets in Our Solar System
Overview: A planet is a large body which reflects the light of a star around which it revolves. There are 8 planets that make up our solar system. The 4 inner planets, closest to the Sun, are solid spheres of rock. They include Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The 4 outer planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. They are large gaseous planets with rings. All 8 planets travel around the Sun in a different orbit.
Grade Level: Grades 2-4
Subject Matter: Science
Duration: 3-5 periods of 30-40 minutes
National Standards Addressed:

Properties of Objects

Physical Science Standard B

  • Position and Motion of Objects

Earth and Space Science Standard D

  • Objects in the Sky


  • Students will name the planets in order from the Sun.

  • Students will identify characteristics of each planet.

  • Students will research a planet of their choice.


  • Computers with internet access

  • 8 ½ x 11 white sheet of paper (one per child)

  • 8 ½ x 11 white sheet of paper with a 6 inch diameter circle on it (one per child)

  • 9 pieces of 9 x 12 inch paper or tag board for signs: Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune


Day 1:

Introduction to the planets

  • Assess prior knowledge: Ask students to name what planets they know and something about that planet.

  • Write the names of the 8 planets on the board. Discuss how they move (rotation and revolution around the Sun).

  • Discuss the vast distance between the Sun and all the planets.

  • Go outdoors to do an orbit activity so students can get an idea of the distances between the planets.

  • Have a sign made for the Sun and each of the planets for a student to hold.

  • Give the ‘Sun’ sign to one student and have the student stand in one place. Take one step from the sun. One student will hold the Mercury sign. One more step from Mercury is Venus. One more step from Venus is Earth. One large step to Mars. At this point you can stop adding planets and demonstrate revolution. The Sun stands still, and the other 4 planets revolve around it.

  • Next add the outer planets. Walk 10 steps from Mars to Jupiter. At each point have one student hold the sign with the planet name. This gives them an idea of the vast space between the planets. Walk 11 steps from Jupiter to Saturn; twenty-five steps to Uranus; twenty-eight steps to Neptune. Each step represents about 36 million miles.

  • Use this website to share pictures and facts of each planet.
Day 2:

  • Review the planets order, and discuss something they may have learned in the previous lesson.

  • Discuss Pluto. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) passed a resolution defining a planet. It has to have these 3 properties:

  • celestial body that orbits the sun

  • massive enough that its own gravity causes it to form a spherical shape

  • has a clear neighborhood around its orbit

*Explain to students that at this time Pluto’s planet status was taken away although some books or references may still have it listed as a planet. It is considered one of the dwarf planets beyond Neptune.

  • Listen to song about the planets.

  • Ask children if they think life as we know it exists on other planets. Listen to their ideas.

  • Listen to POP #1835 Astrobiology: Extreme Environments. Ask what planet scientists think may have had life on it (Mars). Listen a second time for where they are studying life on Earth. That may help them with discovering life on Mars. (Antarctica because it is an extreme environment. Like Mars, it is very cold and dry. Scientists believe that the lichen that live in the rocks in Antarctica may be a clue to the type of life that may have existed or exists on Mars.)

  • Use the following websites and have students look up information on a planet. Assign or let each child choose a planet to become an expert on.

  • While taking turns on the computers, students can design their own planet. Give each child a paper with a 6 inch diameter circle drawn on it.

      • Instructions: Discover your own planet. Design this circle to be your own unique planet. Give it a name, and color it the way you would like it to look. Your planet may have rings, moons, volcanoes, or giant craters.

Day 3:

  • Share the planets the students designed yesterday. These can be displayed.

  • Discuss what planets have moons. Talk about the Earth’s moon also.

  • Show class a picture of Jupiter and Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.

  • Listen to POP #2818 Astrobiology: Europa.

Discuss what scientists believe about Jupiter’s moon, Europa. (They believe that it may have liquid water.) Review what they know about water and the possibility of life.

  • Listen to POP #1834 Astrobiology: Europa. This gives more information about the possibility of water on Europa. Ask why it would be so difficult to explore Europa.

  • Have students continue to research a planet.

  • Their finished product will be a Postcard from a Planet.

  • Give each child a blank paper with one side divided in half. That side is where a note will be written and addressed. (Like a real postcard.) The note will include at least 3 facts learned about the planet. The other side will be blank, and each child will draw a picture of the planet they researched.

Day 4:

  • Students may need a few days to research their planet for their postcard. They can use any of the websites cited. Some even have games and activities on the planets that they can do.

  • A sample evaluation for the postcard is in the handouts.

Scroll down for more…




Interesting colored picture (points possible 3) ___

Address: name, address written correctly, spelling

Capitalization, punctuation

(points possible: 10) ___
Stamp designed (1) ___
Written message:

Spelling (2) ___
Capitalization (2) ___
Punctuation (2) ___
Sentence structure (2) ___
Greeting (2) ___
Closing (2) ___
Signature (1) ___
Accurate, interesting facts about the planet

  1. ___

TOTAL POINTS: (30) ___

Additional Resources

Web Images

Name: Mars


Caption: This global snapshot of Mars was taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. Images from 12 orbits were combines to produce the image. Bluish-white water ice clouds hang above the Tharsis volcanoes.

Credit: NASA
Name: Jupiter


Caption: Jupiter is a "gas giant"; all gas giants are similar to Jupiter in composition. Jupiter's diameter is 11 times Earth's diameter and 20% larger than Saturn's, making it the largest planet in the solar system. Gas giant are also very much larger than terrestrial planets. This color-enhanced image of Jupiter was taken by Voyager 1.

Credit: NASA
Name: Solar System 1


Caption: Solar system collage.

Credit: NASA
Name: Venus


Caption: This is a global view of the surface of Venus.

Credit: NASA
Name: Mercury


Caption: Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, remains the most mysterious of the Solar System's inner planets. Hiding in the Sun's glare it is a difficult target for Earth bound observers.

Credit: NASA
Name: Earth West


Caption: This spectacular “blue marble” image is the most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date.

Credit: NASA
Name: Saturn


Caption: The butterscotch-colored, ringed Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest in the Solar System, smaller only than Jupiter. It has an equatorial diameter of 119,300 kilometers (74,130 miles), and its volume would enclose 750 Earths!

Credit: NASA
Name: Uranus


Caption: Once considered one of the blander-looking planets, Uranus has been revealed as a dynamic world with some of the brightest clouds in the outer solar system and 11 rings.

Credit: NASA
Name: Neptune 2


Caption: Color image of Neptune showing its "Great Dark Spot".

Credit: NASA
Name: Mars 2


Caption: Mars as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Credit: NASA
Name: Signs of Water


Caption: Photo of microscopic rock forms indicating past signs of water, taken by Opportunity.

Credit: NASA
Name: Jupiter Moons


Caption: Jupiter's 4 Galilean moons, in a composite image comparing their sizes and the size of Jupiter (Great Red Spot visible). From the top they are: Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io.

Credit: NASA

Web Image Galleries
NSSDC Photo Gallery (solar system) – NASA

Web Links
Our Solar System – Windows to the Universe / University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Exploring the Planets – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Welcome to the Planets – NASA
Cyberspace –
Fast Facts (planets, solar system) - Space Telescope Science Institute
Our Solar System: A Galactic Neighborhood (see subtopics in left column) – NASA
The Solar System – Star Child / NASA
Europa – Nine Planets
Jupiter’s Moons –
Explore Jupiter – BBC
Mars – Nine Planets
Mars Exploration Program – NASA
Mars –
Solar System Kids – NASA Science for Kids


Mars Rover Video Simulation – Cornell University

“Looking for Life on Jupiter’s Icy Moon Europa” – University of California at Berkeley
“Is There Life On Jupiter's Moon Europa? Finding Signs Of Current Geological Activity On A Frozen World” – Science Daily

Just For Kids

NASA Kid’s Club (games, slide shows, images) – NASA
Planets and the Solar System (games, facts, short video clips) – NASA
The Solar System – Star Child / NASA
F9 Kids (interactive astronomy for kids)
Solar System Trading Card Game - Space Telescope Science Institute
Mars for Kids (games, activities) – NASA
ESA Kids - European Space Agency


Our Solar Neighborhood (educator guide) – NASA
Solar System (links, quiz, games, lesson plans, etc…) – Educational Technology Center / Kennesaw State University

Special thanks to the following scientists for their help with this project:
Pulse of the Planet Programs: #1834 “Astrobiology: Europa”

David Morrison

Senior Scientist

NASA Ames Research Institute
Pulse of the Planet: #1835 “Astrobiology: Extreme Environments”

Chris McKay

Research Scientist

NASA Ames Research Center
Pulse of the Planet: #2818 “Astrobiology: Europa”

Lynn Rothchild

Research Scientist

NASA Ames Research Center
Header Image

Name: Solar System 1

Credit: NASA

Copyright 2008 Jim Metzner Productions – All Rights Reserved

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