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)

    This activity is a summary of what is known about the solar system.

    View Resource
  • Building a model of the solar system with fruit (11-14)

    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)

    Copernicus not only offered 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


  • Trumper, R., () A cross-age study of junior high school students'conceptions of basic astronomy concepts, International Journal of Science Education, 23 (11) 1111-1123.

    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.

    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) 685-712.

    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) 2158-2180.

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