The Shape of the Solar System

You have just made maps of the Solar System, as it is seen from Earth. You have seen an S-shaped curve in the maps. But what does that curve mean?

Remember that maps are models of the real world. Like any models, they are accurate in some ways and inaccurate in other ways. Thinking about how the maps are accurate or inaccurate can help you understand the world that the maps represent.

If you did the last activity about coordinate systems, think back to the first thing you did. Your teacher gave you a map of the Earth, and you rolled it up into a cylinder. Now, try the same thing with your map of the asteroids.

Explore 4. Get into groups of three to four. Your teacher will give each group a full-page copy of a map of the Solar System with thousands of asteroids, printed on transparency paper.

First, use a marker to trace over the line through the celestial equator (Dec = 0 degrees); you’ll use this line in the next section. Then, cut off all the blank space around the edges, then wrap it into a cylinder and tape the two short sides together.

You are looking at a cylinder-shaped model of the Solar System as seen from Earth. However, because we look out at the Solar System from Earth, the Earth is on the inside of this model. That’s why you made it out of transparency paper – so you could imagine yourself in the middle of the model, looking out.

Question 7. Imagine that you are on the Earth, in the middle of the cylinder, looking out. What would you see?

So now you know what the Solar System looks like when seen from Earth. But how does the Earth fit into the Solar System? Click Next to go on to Activity 3: Earth, Sun, and Seasons to find out.