The solar system where we live is a vast and amazing place. There are so many things to study and so much information to learn. Starting with the Sun in the center, and moving all the way from the rocky interior planets to the outer gas giants, the solar system is full of opportunities to learn new things and see new worlds.
When a child first begins to study our solar system one of the best ways to help them integrate that learning is by creating a visual project that helps them see where everything is: to make a solar system. We want to show you how to make solar system model school project that you can build with your child for a science fair or presentation. (They’re so much more fun than simple solar system projectors.)
Learning about the solar system is a standard part of most elementary science education. And learning how to make a model of the solar system is a very commonly assigned project.
However, not all schools give full instruction, and some parents and students aren’t confident where to begin with this project. We wanted to offer this refresher on how to make solar system model school projects, so that you and your child can create something fun and educational together.
To learn how to make a model of the solar system will give you and your child a chance to learn and discuss the way our solar system is made up. Solar system model projects help a child learn in a tangible way about the size and appearance of each of our planets.
A younger child can complete the project with a parent, and an older child may be able to do most of the project independently. But we always advise that you provide appropriate supervision, especially for the parts of the project that involve gluing, or making holes with skewers and toothpicks. And even younger children may be able to benefit from a solar system mobile.
We’ve included instructions for a simple method of how to make a model of the solar system, as well as some interesting facts about each planet that you can discuss as you create the project, or include during the school presentation.
Make a Solar System Step 1: Gathering the Materials
Before you begin learning how to make a model of the solar system, you’ll need to collect the necessary materials. The first things to gather for any solar system model projects are the materials for the planets. (For a similar project, check out our guide to building a homemade solar system projector.)
You will need styrofoam balls in varying sizes. One largest size for the sun, two large size for Saturn and Jupiter, two medium balls for Neptune and Uranus. Two small sizes for Earth and Venus, an extra small for Mars, and an extra-extra small for Mercury.
You should also purchase paint. You will primarily need yellow, orange, brown, grey, red, and blue. You may want additional colors, but mixing these six will be sufficient for your needs. Make sure you select paint that works with the styrofoam. We recommend tempera paint.
Additional materials needed are:
- A ½” diameter dowel rod, 36” long
- Fishing wire (or other firm, sturdy cord or string)
- Wooden skewers (with pointed ends to pierce the styrofoam)
- 9 Eye screws
- A flat styrofoam block to attach the planets to while painting and drying
- Cardstock or construction paper
Many of the items needed for solar system model projects are the kind you have around the house, like toothpicks, paint, and glue. Other items may be purchased at a craft store, or even in the craft section of some big box stores.
You can also order the materials online from stores like Amazon. It’s generally quite easy to collect the necessary items to make a solar system in a single trip or online order.
Make a Solar System Step 2: Paint the Planets
Once you’ve gathered together all the items that you need, it’s time to begin assembling your solar system model.
Begin by painting the planets according to their respective size and appearance. The best way to do this is to take a large toothpick or skewer and place it on a styrofoam block. Attach the styrofoam ball to the skewer or toothpick while you are painting so it doesn’t roll away and so it can dry without smudging. Getting the details right will encourage discussion on things like how the solar system formed.
Here is each planet, in order, with notes on painting and fun facts about the planet to help you create your solar system model:
Sun: The Sun is a star and makes up about 98% of all the matter in the solar system. For your project, the styrofoam ball that represents the Sun should be bigger than any other planets.
In reality the Sun is actually ten times bigger than Jupiter, and over 100 times bigger than Earth. However, this is hard to accurately scale in a child’s project. So simply choose the largest styrofoam ball from the ones you purchased and paint it a yellowish orange.
Mercury: This is the smallest planet in your solar system model. It is also the closest to the sun, and has the shortest orbit: only 88 days. Mercury is tiny, dry, and hot. For your project, paint the smallest styrofoam ball a mottled grey color to make this planet.
Venus: This planet is nearly the same size as Earth, but despite a similar size, and the fact that it’s a next door neighbor to earth, Venus’s closeness to the sun makes it fantastically hot. The whole planet is covered in a dense, poisonous atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid.
To make Venus, paint it in a swirly yellow-brown to depict the acidic clouds that cover its surface.
Earth: The Earth is our home and the only planet known to have life. Earth has oceans of liquid water that cover about 2/3rd of its surface. It’s also one of the only known planets to have plate tectonics.
To create this planet, choose one of the second smallest styrofoam balls and paint it brown, green and blue. It’s a great idea to provide your child with a map or globe so that they can learn a little about the shape of the continents while they are painting.
Mars: Smaller than Earth and Venus, but a little larger than Mercury, Mars is the last of the inner rocky planets. Mars used to have an atmosphere and liquid water on the surface, but its gravity wasn’t strong enough to hold onto those things. Most of the atmosphere is gone, and there are many dry lake and river beds that are the only remains of Martian water.
Paint Mars reddish brown to simulate the oxidized iron (rust) that is prevalent in Martian rocks and soil.
Jupiter: This is the largest planet in the solar system. It is a gas giant, meaning it does not have a rocky surface like Earth or other inner planets. You couldn’t stand on Jupiter, you’d just fall in to the dense gassy surface.
Paint Jupiter with multi-colored bands of dull yellow, burnt red, tan, and brown. Don’t forget to include Jupiter’s characteristic Red Spot: a hurricane of gas which is more than twice the size of earth and many hundred years old.
Saturn: Saturn is the second-largest planet after Jupiter. It’s known for its beautiful rings, which are a halo of floating particles and debris.
Paint Saturn with yellowish bands, and make the rings of construction paper or cardstock. You can attach the rings by sticking a couple toothpicks around the center of Saturn, and then placing the rings on top of the protruding toothpicks and gluing them in place.
Uranus: Uranus is an icy gas giant in the far-reaches of the solar system. It should be painted with soft blue stripes and swirls. When you attach Uranus to a string, make sure to put it on its side (so that the stripes go up and down, not side to side) because Uranus spins on its side!
Neptune: The eighth and final planet in the solar system, Neptune is very similar in size and color to Uranus. It, too is a gas giant.
Paint Neptune a somewhat brighter blue than Uranus. It does not spin on its side, but does have some very thin rings, which you can make in the same manner as Jupiter’s rings.
You can also choose to paint the wooden dowel if you like. Painting it black or deep navy with stars to simulate the night sky is a nice touch.
Once all the painting is complete, allow everything to dry (allow to dry overnight for best results). Attach the rings of Saturn and Neptune as described above, and allow any glue to dry before moving on to the next step.
Make a Solar System Step 3: String the Planets
Once all your planets are thoroughly dried you’ll want to create a way to display them. it’s time to add the eye screws. We recommend placing a dab of glue on the spot where you will screw in the eye screw, it will help provide a little extra hold. For the largest planets, you may even want to place two eye screws side by side, about ¼” apart to spread out the load a bit.
Once all the eye screws are attached and the glue is dried, you can take a length of cord or fishing wire and knot it onto the eye screw. Tie the other end around the dowel, and slide each planet into place. Order them, from the Sun to Neptune (see the painting section if you need a reminder on planet order).
If you are unable to purchase eye screws, you can use a skewer to pierce the planet from north to south, and string the fishing wire or cord through the resulting hole, but this is more difficult to do. You can then make a series of knots and glue them to the “south pole” to hold them fast. Once it is dried, tie to the dowel as noted above.
As you tie the planets to the dowel, consider their placement. You may have them all at the same level, or you may vary it for visual interest. Consider how to make a model of the solar system that has your own flair. You can get a little creative with your display. (And for a fun variation on this project, check out our guide to making solar system bracelets!)
Make a Solar System Step 4: Display
Once all your planets are in place on the dowel, take an extra-long length of cord or fishing wire and tie each end to an end of the dowel. This will allow you to hold the whole thing up by holding the hanger in one hand, or by placing it on a hook or tack to display.
You may choose to glue the cords or threads in place on the dowel so that they don’t shift when you move or transport the model. Hot glue is best for this, but any glue will do.
And there you have it: your own solar system model for your school project.
Variations on How to Make Solar System Model School Projects
The above instructions give you the basics on how to make a model of the solar system, but there are endless additions or variations on this type of project. Once you understand the basics on how to make solar system model school project, you can add more features or change things around to make the project your own.
One of the easiest additions to your solar system is to add small paper labels of each planet’s name and glue them to the planet for identification.
You can use tiny styrofoam balls, or pom poms to represent the moons of each planet. They can be set “in orbit” around the planet by gluing these moons to one end of a toothpick, and sticking the other end into the planet. Refer to published photographs of each planet to determine how many to include in your project.
You could also take a large piece of black foam board and glue the styrofoam planets to the board instead of stringing them from a dowel. This would allow you to draw their orbits on the board, and put labels or facts to the side.
In fact, the variations are almost endless. Use the resources and facts you’ve learned here, and let your project go where your imagination takes you. See how creative you can get and allow yourself and your child and consider how to make a model of the solar system that is truly an original creation. (For a similar project, check out these home solar robot kits!)