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One of the important features of the key stage 2 astronomy is making it apparent that the students probably knew more than they believed they did, as with regards to the teaching of how the position of the sun

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EDM 212 The Exploration of Science II

Assessment C: The Earth and Beyond

Joseph Colledge

The Solar System

Astronomy is often considered the oldest of all sciences, records have been discovered dating back to 4th century BC with the ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Babylonians and Arabians all documenting sightings of what was considered phenomena back then but are now called comets, planets, eclipses and supernovae.  

As with other science disciplines new discoveries are always being made in astronomy such as the recent discovery of what is being claimed by some experts as a new planet in the solar system, 2003 VB16 otherwise known as Sedna (the inuit goddess of the sea.)  This planet/object was found 14 November 2003 when NASA funded researchers noticed a dim object moving, slightly, across the starry field.  It has been estimated that this planet/object is 84 billion miles from the sun and due to the distance from the sun it has an estimated temperature which never reaches above 240 degrees Celsius.  (Kutner 2003)


The above picture shows an artists rendition to show the Sedna in relation to other bodies in the Solar System, including Earth and its Moon; Pluto; and Quaoar, a planetoid beyond Pluto that was until now the largest known object beyond Pluto. The diameter of Sedna is slightly smaller than Pluto's but likely somewhat larger than Quaoar.

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At this level the student is taught the history of planetary discovery, and how before the invention of telescopes only five planets were known (apart from earth) as they were firstly believed to be stars in the sky but it was later realised that in fact they were different as week by week they moved slowly whilst the actual stars were in a fixed position.  For this reason the ancient Greeks named them planets which means “wanderer”.  (Kutner 2003)

The means by which telescopes adapt and intensify light is discussed at this key stage so that the student can fully understand how they made it possible to discover the remaining 3 planets (or 4 if you include Sedna).  At this level space probes and space telescopes would be discussed so as to make them aware that the advancements in knowledge are leaping so far ahead to what was previously thought possible, and for the students there has never been a better time to learn as with slides and presentations it is possible to show the pupils actual photographic evidence of the surface of a planet or even a different galaxy. (Karttunen 2003)

It is also this time when an in depth look at the many exploratory probes which have and are currently attempting to gather more and more information with regards to the

Solar system we are in.

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This representation above gives an idea of the size of the planets with the fuzzy shape to the left being part of the edge of the sun.

When considering the distances between the planets the numbers become even more mind-boggling for students as although the universe is mostly empty space, even a crowded region like the solar system has distances between the planets which are very hard to imagine.  When trying to consider the distances which would need to be travelled to get to the far reaches of this solar system, at the speed of today’s fastest spacecraft (20km/second), it would take almost ten years to travel the distance and even at the speed of light it would take 5 ½ hours. (Kutner 2003)

One of the final considerations which needs to be passed over to the pupils is that the solar system does not just contain planets in that although they are of the greatest physical mass, there are many other objects and that although it is called space, it is actually filled with many objects which vary from dust to comets to black holes (possibly) and each of which combine to make the solar system as we know it.



Kutner, M.L. (2003)  Astronomy:  Physical Perspective.  Melbourne:                                                                                                                                        Cambridge University Press

Karttunen, H  (2003) Fundamental Astronomy. New York:                                        Springer-Verlag Publications

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