Earth
Earth and Space

Where we live

Classroom Activity for 5-11 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

It is fun to write the school address on a universal scale, and this can be used to explore some questions about the universe.

Teacher Tip: This goes beyond the remit of the primary curriculum but it is something that just fascinates many children and can be a source of inspiration for them. You'll need to check that the school library has a good selection of astronomy books before setting any research work.

What to Prepare

  • Some address labels
  • Large labels for each planet
  • Another tabard, similarly, for the Moon
  • 2 small spherical beads on a threads suspended from a rod

What Happens During this Activity

Ask the children to write their full address:

xxx School, Street Town, Country, Continent Earth ……… ………

It should go on to include:

Earth Solar System Milky Way Galaxy The Universe

Finally, revisit the beads on threads model used in the previous section about the Moon.

As previously, one bead represents the Earth and the other the Moon. The beads need to be about 10 cm apart so that the scale is roughly correct. On this scale, the Sun is represented by a large beach ball 40 m away.

Hold this model up, with a large beach ball, explaining that it needs to be 40 m away and then ask the children:

Teacher: What is between the Earth and the Sun?

There are two other planets, Mercury and Venus, but these are also relatively tiny and are in constant orbit around the Sun. Children tend to have quite a crowded picture of space and often think that there are a vast number of things, including other stars, between us and the Sun. In reality, there is just about nothing – no air, nothing.

Then ask them to think about all the myriad of stars seen in the night sky.

Teacher: Where, on this scale, would our nearest neighbouring star be found?

Ask for suggestions. They may say in a town 1 km away, or even 30 km away.

Incredibly, on this same scale with the Sun 40 m away from the Earth, the nearest star would be 4000 km away. So if the bead model is held up in a school in the UK, the model Sun is 40 m away on the same scale, and the nearest neighbouring star would need to be in Canada. And we cannot see much between stars. Nor between Galaxies, which are even further apart.

Such is the awesome scale of our universe. What we know about it we learn from the light travelling to our eyes, crossing these huge distances, and travelling for ever such a long time.

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