Some students assume that the distances between planets in the solar system are much smaller than they are
This may be because of the misrepresentation of the distances between the celestial bodies in diagrams.
The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.
For more information, see the University of York BEST website.
Resources to address this
Movements in the solar system (5-11)
Ref - SPT HS03 PN06
This activity is a summary of what is know about the solar system.View Resource
Building a model of the solar system with fruit (11-14)
Ref - SPT ES03 TA02
Here you construct a model of the solar system to show the relative size of the planets, the distance of each planet from the Sun and the spacing between the planets.
It shows clearly why the sizes and distances are often drawn with different scales.View Resource
Planets in the Copernican system (11-16)
Ref - Practical physics / Astronomy / Copernican revolution/ Planets in the Copernican system
Copernicus did not only offer an alternative model that looked simpler than the heliocentric model. He also extracted new information from his heliocentric scheme: the order and relative sizes of the planetary orbits.
Estimating the size of the planets themselves would have to wait until telescopes had been invented. A rough model of the solar system known to Copernicus would require the items listed.View Resource
The following studies have documented this misconception:
- Trumper, R., () A cross-age study of junior high school students'conceptions of basic astronomy concepts, International Journal of Science Education, 23 (11)
- Osborne, J., Wadsworth, P., Black, P. and Meadows, J., () The earth in space: Primary space project research report, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
- Sharp, G, J., () Children's astronomical beliefs: a preliminary study of Year 6 children in south‐west England, International Journal of Science Education, 18 (6)
- Slater, V. E., Morris, E. J. & McKinnon, D., () Astronomy alternative conceptions in preadolescent students in Western Australia, International Journal of Science Education, 40 (17)