

Scaling of Universe
Name: Phil
Status: other
Grade: other
Location: NV
Country: N/A
Date: N/A
Question:
If the known stars in the universe were shrunk to
the size of atoms and the distances between them were shrunk
proportionately, how big would the universe be?
Replies:
Phil,
It is impossible to answer this question, but here is one
perspective. The peppercorn model of the solar system is often used
to teach kids about how large just our own solar system is. It is
after understanding this model that they can appreciate how large
the distances really are. The model goes roughly like this: The
sun is a bowling ball, 8 inches in diameter, so each inch is roughly
100,000 miles. The planets can be made out of pin heads and various
nuts and the Earth is a peppercorn. The students can now appreciate
how much larger the Sun is over the Earth! The next part is
performed outside, sometimes starting on a baseball field or on a
track around a football field. The sun will be at home plate or at
one end zoneyou get the idea. The "Planets" are then placed at a
distance that is porportional to their distance to the Sun. If you
are going to do this, then tape the pins, nuts etc to index cards so
that you can identify and find them. The rough distances are as such:
Mercury: 10 yards
Venus: 19 yards
Earth: 26 yards
Mars: 40 yards
Jupiter: 135 yards
Saturn: 247 yards
Uranus: 496 yards
Neptune: 777 yards
Pluto: 1019 yards
You can quickly see that this experiment quickly gets out of hand
with the space needed to perform it, and about 0.5 miles is needed
to reach Pluto. Doing this around a track and possibly making some
of the kids walk part or all of the way is a great way for them to
appreciate the distance. The bowling ball and peppercorn model is
good to show the relationship of the sizes of the planets and the
Sun. But you can also recalculate the distances using something
smaller, like a grain of sand for Earth and a pinhead for the Sun
and then show the distances between the planets on a more reasonable scale.
After all of this is taught, then try to help them understand how
far away the CLOSEST star is to Earth (Proxima Centauri, 4.3 light
years). On the peppercorn model, you would have to travel a
whopping 244 million miles away to place the nearest star on that
scale. To go beyond this scale and have young kids understand it is
probably not worth the time, but here is a web site where I got a
bit of my information and contains a lot more leads to more information:
http://www.noao.edu/education/peppercorn/pcmain.html
Matt Voss
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Update: June 2012

