Planetary Physics

August 2004, Paul Doherty, Eric Muller, Eric Wegryn

These are activities I did each day in addition to the activities presented in the planet by planet list below.

Day 1 Introduction

Introductory Activity: Hands-On Temperature, A good way to get to know each other. Have the class form a line from hottest hands to coldest hands. Then check the hottest hand and coldest hands in the Thermal Infrared Camera.

See infrared light by using a digital camera to look at a television remote control.

Person in a Bag, Introduction to atmospheric pressure. My altimeter watch measured the pressure in the bag as 1300 feet above the outside-the-bag sea level pressure. The pressure inside the bag is only 1.3/30 atmospheres less than atmospheric pressure only 0.04 atmospheres or 4% less than atmospheric pressure. Yet the force on the person in the bag body feels immense, and it is.

Day 2 Atmosphere Day

Magnetic Atmosphere Model, use magnetic donut magnets on a pencil to make a model of a planetary atmosphere.

Atmosphere Bar, cut a 1 square inch steel bar to the correct length so that it weighs 14.7 pounds. Feel atmospheric pressure.

Can Crush, Boil water in an empty can, take the can off the heater and cap it. As the water inside the can condenses into a liquid the pressure of the gas inside the can decreases and the atmospheric pressure outside the can crushes the can. You can use soda cans, 1 gallon cans from TAP plastics, and 55 gallon drums.

Taste of Mars. Put dry ice in a tank. Scoop up the carbon dioxide gas from the tank into a cup and drink it.

Liquid Dry Ice, Put dry ice into a Tygon tube. Fold over the ends and seal them with C-clamps The dry ice will sublime, pressurizing the inside of the tubing to more than 5 atmospheres, then the dry ice will melt into a liquid.

Phase change of water at the water freezer exhibit. Water will boil at earth atmospheric pressure when it is heated to the boiling temperature. But water at room temperature will boil if its pressure is reduced. Freezing cold water will boil at the surface of Mars.

You can also boil water in a syringe.

Day 3 Scale

Walk Around orrery, Tory Brady

Solar System walk with Linda

Venus Transit with Linda
Web images and movies of the Venus Transit.

Scale models of the solar system Based on Pages by Ron Hipschman,


Day 4 Gravity Day

Gravity Well, investigate orbits and tides.

Martian gravity, how does a baseball fall on Mars?

Your weight on other worlds (from Ron Hipschman)

Soda Can on other planets. Make a soda can that weighs on earth what it would weigh on other planets.

Day 5 Sharing:

Make a Planet Bracelet by Stacey, Levitate a pencil lead John Lahr, Watch Meteors Alejandra

Day 6 Color and Images

Eric, make anaglyphs, make colored images using camera balls and inexpensive software.

Day 7 Surface

Cratering, Drop steel ball bearings and lead fishing weights into a salt filled tray to study crater formation.

Crater Illusion, Images of craters can appear as hills depending on the lighting.

Single-Serving_volcanism, make intrusive dikes by injecting pudding into Jell-O cups. Eric Muller.

The search for extraterrestrial life. What is life? Steve Ribisi, Karen Kalumuck.

Day 8 Spacecraft

Day 9 Miscellaneous

Day 10 Class presentations.



Mars summary

The View from Mars, What makes the red planet red, the sky salmon-colored and sunsets cyan on Mars?

Tales of a Martian Rock Climber, Considerations of a rock climber on Mars, is the rock any good?

Camping on Mars, What does it take to survive on Mars? How warm a sleeping bag do you need?

Martian Snowflakes, What shape is a Martian snowflake? How big are halos around the sun on Mars?

Mission updates and Surprises, What have we discovered so far?

Playing Around on Mars, Games and toys on Mars.

Being Human on Mars Seeing, hearing, smelling and touching Mars.

Individual activities.

Mars size, use clay to make a scale model of Mars and compare it to earth.

Mars Walk, Use a pendulum and an inclined plane to feel Martian Gravity.

Mars Acceleration of Gravity, Mars Atwoods, Build an Atwoods machine to show Martian gravitational acceleration.

Boyling Water, Water will boil at room temperature when the pressure is reduced.

Freezing by Boiling, Water will boil until it freezes at low pressures like those found on Mars.

Martian Snowflake Essay, How I discovered the shape of Martian carbon dioxide ice snowflakes.

Mars Calendar and Clock, create a clock and a calendar for Mars.

 Here is a collection of Mars data.


Venus Transit and activities, all about Venus

Transit of Venus and the Astronomical Unit, how the transit of Venus can be used to measure the astronomical unit.

Sulfuric Acid Rain, The rain on Venus is made from Sulfuric Acid drops, here we explore what happens when sulfuric acid is mixed into sugar.


The Cassini Spacecraft at Saturn, An introduction to Saturn, its rings and moons. Includes Saturn Data.

Spin a Koosh, Saturn bulges at the equator because it rotates.

Comet Wild 2

Icy Bodies, Model a comet in your classroom.


Other Planet Activities

Cratering, Make craters by dropping ball bearings into salt.

Dance of the day and the year, explore rotation and revolution of planets in a dance.

Earth rotation, observe the rotation of the earth.

Self Centered Globe, see the pattern of sunlight on the earth.

Three Moons of Earth, explore the three co-orbital satellites of earth.

Falling, objects fall at the same rate when they drop or move to the side.

Freefall Candle, A candle in freefall is deprived of convection.

Falling Astronaut Spine, a falling slinky expands just as an astronaut spine expands in freefall.

Gravity Well, marbles rolling in a plastic funnel models the orbits of the planets

Bouncing Ball, Drop two balls one on top of the other to show how gravity assisted orbits work.

Orbits and Solar System The nature of orbits

Gravity Assist, a simple case showing how a gravity assist works.

Planet Shape, the basic alphabet of planet shapes.

Magnetism of the Planets, planetary magnetic fields.


Web Resources

The Exploratorium:

Paul Doherty:

Eric Muller:

Nine Planets:


Mars: The Exploratorium:

Mars Rover:

Mars Express:


Exploratorium Transit of Venus:


Exploratorium Saturn:

Cassini-Huygens Home:


Stardust Mission, Wild 2



Bad Astronomy:

Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty

© 2004

21 July 2004