Build Your Own Solar System   A Free On-line Curriculum Aid
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Using data from their own solar system, students can construct unique plots of the planets' motoins.
Background: When my students happen upon writings speaking of the beauty and grandeur of the night's sky, I worry that most of them shrug their shoulders--wondering how those lights sometimes mistaken for planes could ever have warranted so much to do. My students have grown up under the glow of suburbia. Those who have seen the Milky Way have never caught it from their back yard. For one who spent many nights as a child under the stars I find my students painfully detached from a sky that for all of human history has been awe inspiring. This isolation from the nightly sky translates into all but no feeling for the planets' motions. I suspect many of my students think the planets move like the Moon, in a steady march eastward. They know that a geocentric model held sway for centuries, and this simple eastward motion makes such a model understandable. When they hear of retrograde motion, I wonder if they appreciate the problem it presented. I worry that they too easily write off the geocentrists and fail to appreciate the work of those who replaced them.

To help them engage with the planets, I developed a simulation which illustrates their wandering motions. Using this simulation and a hypothetical set of planets, my students interrogate their paths. They can use Kepler's Third Law to determine these planets' distances from their star or work to determine the full set of their orbital parameters. What is important is that I provide them with a unique solar system of their own: one where they cannot look up the values; one where they must engage, explore, and discover for themselves. Give your students the same experience. Create your own solar system below.

Create an Account: Each account provides you with your own one (1) to five (5) planet system available to you and your students at its own URL for 180 days. You can create multiple accounts for as long as you want, but in order to deal with accumulated and unused data, I have limited the duration of an account to half a year. To see what your page would look like, here is a sample solar system using the same orbital parameters as the actual Solar System. To setup your own account simply click here.

If You'd Like to Link, Link Here: Place today's sky on your webpage. Link to here with one of these dynamic astronomy banners. Banner coding and instructions.

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