Thursday, 12 May 2011

Space: The Final Frontier

This morning Junior and I were discussing the solar system, his current topic in environmental studies. It’s great to see him so fired up about a school project. I was explaining to him that the planets are actually much further away from one another than most pictures show (for example the illustration above) and in actual fact Mars is, at its closest around 35 000 000 miles from Earth. The immensity of space is a difficult concept to grasp so I started telling him about a brilliant exercise which can help people understand the size of the universe and our infinitesimal place in it.

“First you find a large field” I began “it has to be really big, even bigger than the swing park. Place a football in the middle of the field to represent the sun”

Junior nodded thoughtfully.

“Now take ten big steps away from the ball and drop a pea. That’s Mercury. Take another nine big steps and drop a peppercorn for Venus. Seven more steps and drop another peppercorn for Earth

I continued to explain the entire process right up to (the recently demoted) Pluto which would be a small pinhead about half a mile away from the football.

Junior looked utterly engrossed as he stared up at the sky with a look of intense concentration on his face.

Great! He’s really listening to this; I’ve got him eating out the palm of my hand.

"Mummy" he said when I finally stopped to draw breath.

He’s going to ask me a challenging question! I thought with a satisfied smile or offer me some of his own knowledge on the subject.

“I’ve got a really itchy bum”


Perhaps it might have been better if I had just shown him this wonderful video on YouTube.

(“The Size of the Solar System” exercise is taken from Chapter One, The Inquiring Mind: Raising Freethinkers