Some students assume that the distances between planets in the solar system are much smaller than they are

Earth and Space


This may be because of the misrepresentation of the distances between the celestial bodies in diagrams. 

Diagnostic Resources

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)


    Key paper digest

  • Osborne, J., Wadsworth, P., Black, P. and Meadows, J., () The earth in space: Primary space project research report, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

    Key paper digest: Paper 1 and Paper 1

  • 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)


    Key paper digest

  • Slater, V. E., Morris, E. J. & McKinnon, D., () Astronomy alternative conceptions in preadolescent students in Western Australia, International Journal of Science Education, 40 (17)


Limit Less Campaign

Support our manifesto for change

The IOP wants to support young people to fulfil their potential by doing physics. Please sign the manifesto today so that we can show our politicians there is widespread support for improving equity and inclusion across the education sector.

Sign today