Sailing through the Solar System

— Amy Tyndall

On 27th May 2014, a team of six Star Sailors – Amy Tyndall, Oscar González, Liz Guzman, Sergio Vasquéz, Juan Carlos Muñoz and Catherine McEvoy – headed out on a new voyage to Colegio Seminario Ponitificio Menor in Las Condes, Santiago, where  30 school children aged 12-13 years waited with great anticipation to learn about the Solar System from real-life astronomers.


Firstly, a presentation was given by Liz and Sergio to give an introduction to the scale of the Solar System and the main facts about each of the planets in turn. Did you know that you could fit the Earth inside Jupiter over 1000 times? Or that are 3 different theories as to how our Moon could have been formed? These are just a few of the many interesting facts the kids learnt from one presentation! Their enthusiasm was insatiable, as hand after hand was raised with intelligent questions.


After lunch, it was time to get into groups for the first activity of the afternoon… A Solar System quiz! A good way to test who was listening during the presentation, as everyone frantically scribbled down the answers. It seemed that everyone paid lots of attention, as they all passed with flying colours. The team who answered the most questions correctly were rewarded with a giant poster each, displaying a beautiful astronomical image – much to the envy of the other children!

Scale length

Next, there were three different activities carried out by Oscar to demonstrate different ratios between the planets. Firstly, he started off with a giant ball of Playdoh representing the entire Solar System which was split into many parts to show how the total mass is distributed between each planet. Secondly, he demonstrated to scale how far all the planets are from the Sun using toilet paper, with 10 sheets being equivalent to 1 AU (astronomical unit). The whole roll was used to find Pluto! Lastly, the difference in weights between each planet was demonstrated using sandbags with the heaviest representing Jupiter and the lightest representing Mercury.


Next, Juan Carlos showed the children what a real telescope looked like! He explained how it worked, and how it collected the light from space in a way that allows astronomers to analyse it and answer a specific question. He then demonstrated how a spectrograph works using a home-made ‘Pringlescope’ – empty Pringle tubes that have a slit cut in one end, and a piece of CD taped inside to reflect the light. When pointed at a lamp, the light is split into rainbow colours. They liked it so much they asked if could keep a couple at the school!

Now they know the science, the next step is to think about the practicalities: just how would we travel to other planets? In a rocket, of course! So back in groups, our future scientists and engineers created their own unique bottle rockets ready for space travel complete with nose cones, wings, and one even had flames at the base!


Once made, they were filled with water and taken outside ready for the countdown on the launch pad. With Oscar and Juan Carlos stabilising the system and lighting the fuse, the children cheered as their rockets soared into the air. They may not have reached Mars, but it still ended the day with a bang.

Armed with ESO goody-bags, the class went home happy and proud of the day’s achievements. We can only hope that that night they dreamed of future travels to the stars.

The class show off their rockets!

(For more photos from the event, check out the article written by the school found here!)

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