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Discovering the Wonder of the Universe

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Discovering the Wonder of the Universe

Even though space is - to an extraordinary extent - EMPTY space, teaching about it should not be dull and uninteresting. The universe is a wonderful, magnificent, delightful place, and our teaching about it should capture the wonder of the world around us.

Yes, by all means, we should teach things like the relative masses of the planets, their orbit lengths, their eccentricity...and, for heaven's sake, make sure your students understand that the planets' orbits are not circular; when the day comes that they take a Physics class, you don't want their teacher to have to "unteach" what you've told them.

But the solar system is far more than just a bunch of numbers and tables and calculations; the solar system is filled with strange and magnificent things! So be sure to intersperse some fun facts about the planets in amongst all those numbers and tables.

Here are just a few fun facts to add into the mix of your lessons about the solar system. At the end of the article I'll give you a link where you can find more.

  • Mercury, though it is the closest to the sun, is not the hottest of the planets. In fact, on its night side, its temperatures get down to 300 degrees below zero, Farenheit!
  • On Venus, one day is LONGER than one year!
  • Venus spins in the opposite direction from all the other planets.
  • Mars is home to Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. Olympus Mons is so large you can't see the summit from the base; the summit is beyond the horizon line!
  • Mars' moon Phobos is just the right size and mass (ie, gravitational force) so you can throw a baseball in one direction and turn around to catch it returning to you around the moon.
  • Jupiter's Great Red Spot is actually a giant storm which has been raging in the atmosphere of Jupiter for over 400 years!
  • Jupiter has twice as much mass as all the other planets combined!
  • Saturn is the least dense of all the planets. In fact, if you could build a bathtub big enough to put Saturn in, this gas giant would float!
  • Uranus' rotation on its axis is even stranger than Venus' rotation; Uranus' rotates on its side, so its north and south poles, at different times of the year, point directly at the sun!
  • Uranus gets its bright blue color from Methane.
  • Neptune is now considered to be the outermost planet, because Pluto has been demoted to "Dwarf Planet" status.
  • Even when Pluto was considered to be a planet, there were times when its very eccentric orbit brought it inside Neptune's orbit, making Neptune the outermost planet for a few years every couple centuries.
  • Pluto's moon is so big that Pluto and Charon actually orbit each other around a point that isn't even inside Pluto!
  • Both Pluto and Charon would fit on top of the United States of America.
  • As massive as Jupiter is, it's interesting that - if you combined Jupiter and all the other planets, along with all the asteroids, comets and dust in the solar system, it would still only make up 1% of the solar system's mass. The other 99% is, of course, the sun!

I've found that students enjoy these fun facts; particularly the ones that involve size comparisons between planets, and the fact that you could throw a baseball around Phobos just fires the imagination! If you would like more fun facts about the planets, I have created a larger list here:The Solar System Is a Fun Place to Live!

Lesson by Mr. Twitchell

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