On Friday, March 29th we rocketed to the last three planets in our Solar System: Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn. We followed our usual procedure of Douglas Florian planetary poem, Jacqueline Mitton facts about the origins of the planet's name, looking up images of the planet and interesting facts, doing planetary artwork, and calculating the planet's distance from the Sun to our Solar System String scale and adding the planet picture to our string.
Only a few things about that day were unusual. To begin with, we started Science Club with me serving every child a bowl of plain boiled lasagna noodles and then unrolling and showing my master's diploma from McDaniel College. Why? Simply so that Becca could stand next to me and loudly announce, "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles!"
Just a little Science joke, my friends.
We used water soluble oil pastels for the Venus artwork so that it would be appropriately swirly.
We wanted more details for the incredible textures on the surface of Jupiter so we went with watercolor pencils as the art material.
It was also really interesting to read the "Jupiter: Failed Star" card from the Photographic Card Deck of the Solar System. Balls of gas which are 1x to 80x Jupiter's mass (so that includes Jupiter by a hair) are considered failed stars, or brown dwarves. They just didn't have enough mass to turn on... to light up... to begin the proess of nuclear fusion. The card says:
- The central characteristic of a star is that it generates its own light and heat, whereas a planet is warmed by a star and shines only by reflected light. What then of Jupiter? Measurements show it radiates into space about twice as much heat as it receives from the Sun.
The interior of Jupiter is slowly contracting converting gravitational energy into heat energy. But it is not enough heat to trigger the nuclear fusion that powers the Sun, whic requires a temperature of at least 10 million degrees Celsius. Jupiter would need 80 times more mass crushing down on its interior to reach that temperature..."
The children were fascinated by the 79 known moons which orbit Jupiter, picturing a mini solar system inside our own with 79 objects orbiting a little failed Sun.
It is hard enough to conceive of the vast scale of the system, although the string helps, but once you get into how the items within it are moving around each other while each also spinning and the whole Universe also expanding outward slowly from the Great Inflation... it boggles the mind.
We discovered a math error in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Space and Space Exploration! In our process of looking up the distance of each planet from the Sun (in kilometers), and then dividng that number by 162,500,000 (the scale of our Solar System String), and then taping the card up on the wall by its spot on the string, we found that Venus was 67 cm from the Sun card and Jupiter was 4 m 79 cm from the Sun card. Jupiter is 778,400,000 km from the Sun. But then the book said that Saturn was 14,300,000 km from the Sun and that wouldn't be right. We know that Saturn is farther out than Jupiter! Looking in another source, we found a different number of 1.4 billion km (1,430,000,000) and that would be 8 m 62 cm. That felt much more reasonable, given that several of our other sources said that Saturn was about twice as far from the Sun as Jupiter was. It also makes it easy to see where the math mistake happened. It was off by a few decimal places.
We love having the beautiful full color pictures in Marcus Chown's card deck to add to our string, and next week we will look at the many other things which are in our solar system besides planets. The kids are already asking me questions about Pluto, the asteroid belt, comets, and so on.
The Photographic Card Deck of the Solar System: 158 Cards Featuring Stories, Scientific Data, and Big Beautiful Photographs of All the Planets, Moons, and Other Heavenly Bodies That Orbit Our Sun
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