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Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science

Order out of Chaos: Our Solar System

Why do all the planets orbit the Sun in the same direction and why are the planets closest to the Sun so different from the gas giants farther out? In this session, participants gain a better understanding of the nature of the solar system by examining its formation.

Learning Goals

Moon landing.

During this session, you will have an opportunity to build understandings to help you:
  • Contrast the characteristics of the three types of planetary bodies in our solar system
  • Describe the prominent theory of planet formation
  • Discuss the scientific evidence that informs our understanding of how and when our solar system formed
  • Comprehend the scale of our solar system

Video Overview

Have you ever looked into that seemingly endless blanket of stars in the night sky and wondered: Is there another planet like ours? Is Earth unique in the Universe? What is the likelihood of the existence of solar systems like ours? In order to contemplate these questions, we must first understand the story of our own solar system.

Video Outline

What is the nature of our solar system? How did it form? How did the Earth form? These are questions that have perplexed the thinkers, the dreamers, and the explorers-at-heart of humankind for centuries. Science is finally able to offer some insight into answers to these questions based on evidence gathered from many intriguing sources. Our investigation of the solar system begins by thinking about the nature of its planetary bodies. Dr. Scott Kenyon explores the characteristics of the planets and smaller bodies in our solar system as well as how they formed, and what this suggests about the origin of the solar system. Dr. Sarah Stewart examines the influence of the Sun on planet size, composition, and placement in the solar system. Dr. Ursula Marvin leads us on an investigation of meteorites and the clues about the birth of our solar system that they provide. Dr. Kenyon concludes our solar system exploration by raising questions about the possibility of extra-solar planets and systems.

Throughout the video, we observe elementary school children being interviewed as they explore their ideas about the solar system, planet formation, and planetary motion. We visit Carol Berlin and her third graders at the Charlotte A. Dunning School in Framingham, Massachusetts. We observe as the students apply their knowledge of the planets in a culminating activity to create a schoolyard solar system.

Series Directory

Essential Science for Teachers: Earth and Space Science


Produced by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 2004.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-742-8