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What Are Some Award-Winning Solar System Science Projects for Sixth-Graders?

by Christopher Cascio

To create an award-winning science project in sixth grade, you have to exhibit significant planning, research and execution with an idea that resonates with your studies of space science, and that hasn't already been completely worn out by your predecessors. Aim for topics that provide insight into more obscure aspects of the solar system, such as comets or the tools and phenomena that affect our observations of celestial bodies.

The Perfect Pair

A remarkable fact about our view from Earth is that the sun and the moon appear to be the same size. This is because of the coincidence that the sun is both 400 times larger than the moon and 400 times farther away from the Earth. You can replicate this relationship at a science fair in grand fashion. Attach a sphere with a 1-centimeter diameter to one end of a 100-foot thread, and attach a 400-centimeter sphere to the other end. Suspend the large sphere near the ceiling at the far end of the room, and the small sphere near your station. You can then allow visitors to view the display through a cardboard tube set 3 inches from the smaller sphere.

Ancient Instruments

Another way to present the wonders of the solar system is to investigate the ways in which humans have measured them. Dazzle the science fair judges by constructing a fully functioning astrolabe, and demonstrating how it works. An astrolabe is an ancient, circular tool that uses spinning discs marked with sky maps to provide measurements. You can use an astrolabe to determine the time of specific celestial events, such as a sunrise or sunset, or the position of a celestial body at a given time. Since ancient times, astrolabes have been adapted for other uses, too, such as marine navigation. Many online resources exist for building astrolabes of varying complexity, one of which is The National Ocean and Atmospheric Association's education projects page. You can find another tutorial on Explorable's "Build an Astrolabe" page.

An Illuminating Model

To place an interesting perspective on the classic solar system model project, you can add the element of light to the design. Instead of using an opaque material to model the sun, use a light bulb. By doing this, you can explore how the light strikes different planets. You can further the detail of this investigation by constructing the rings of planets with colored cellophane, which will both reflect light and allow light to pass through, just like actual rings. These details will demonstrate how sunlight gets scattered by different structures and casts remarkable shadows on ringed planets. You can also enclose your model within a booth of black curtains to enhance the effect of your sun.

Comet Construction

While other students are focusing on the structure of the planets within the solar system, you could take the path less traveled and explore one of the solar system's more mysterious inhabitants: comets. Comets are often referred to as dirty snowballs, and you could construct an organic model of one using dry ice, rocks, dirt, water, ammonia and a material such as corn syrup to bind it together. At the fair, you can demonstrate how solar wind causes comets to sublimate -- or change directly from a solid to a gas -- as they approach the sun by heating your comet with a hair dryer.

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