How to Make Your Own Solar System Model

The planets around the sun.
The planets and their position to the sun. David Arky/Getty Images

A solar system model is an effective tool that teachers use to teach about our planet and its environment. The solar system is made of the sun (a star), as well as the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, and the celestial bodies that orbit those planets (like moons). 

You can make a solar system model out of many types of materials. The one thing you should keep in mind is scale; you will need to represent the different planets according to differences in size.

You should also realize that a true scale will probably not be possible when it comes to distance. Especially if you have to carry this model on the school bus!

One of the easiest materials to use for planets is Styrofoam© balls. They are inexpensive, lightweight, and they come in a variety of sizes; however, if you intend to color the planets, be aware that regular spray paint in a can often contains chemicals that will dissolve Styrofoam--so it is best to use water-based paints. 

There are two main types of models: box models and hanging models. You will need a very large (basketball sized) circle or semi-circle to represent the sun. For a box model, you could use a large foam ball, and for a hanging model, you could use an inexpensive toy ball. You will often find inexpensive balls at a "one-dollar" type store.

You can use inexpensive finger paint or markers to color the planets (see note above).

A sample range when considering sizes for planets, from large to small, might measure:
(Please note that this is not the right order of arrangement--see the sequence below.)

  • Jupiter (brownish with a red spot): 4-7 inches
  • Saturn (yellow with red ring): 3- 6 inches
  • Uranus (green): 4-5 inches
  • Neptune (blue): 3-4 inches
  • Venus (yellow): 2 inches
  • Earth (blue): 2 inches
  • Mars (red): 1 and 1/2 inches
  • Mercury (orange): 1 inch

To make a hanging model, you can use straws or wooden dowel rods (like for grilling kebabs) to connect the planets to the sun in the center. You could also use a hula-hoop toy to form the main structure, suspend the sun in the middle (connect it to two sides), and hang the planets around the circle. You can also arrange the planets in a straight line from the sun showing their relative distance (to scale). However, although you may have heard the term "planetary alignment" used by astronomers, they do not mean the planets are all in a straight line, they are simply referring to some of the planets being in the same general region.

To make a box model, cut off the top flaps of the box and set it on its side. Color the inside of the box black, to represent space. You might also sprinkle silver glitter inside for stars. Attach the semicircular sun to one side, and hang the planets in order, from the sun, in the following sequence:

  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Earth
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune

Remember the mnemonic device for this is: My very educated mother just served us nachos.