Academy Curricular Exchange
Columbia Education Center
Science



Dorothy Diehl, Mt. Angel Elementary, Mt. Angel, OR

         INTERPLANETARY DISTANCE AND TRAVEL TIME

Appropriate for grades 5-9.

OVERVIEW:  Most people have a very inaccurate notion of what
real-life space travel among the planets or between star systems
is like.  There are two  reasons for this.  One, it is impossible
to print an accurate scale model for distance of the solar system
in a textbook.  Even a classroom-sized model is ineffective
because choosing a scale that allows Pluto to be at the opposite
from the Sun, puts the inner planets almost on top of each other.

A scale of 1 A.U. = 15 inches requires a space of at least 50
feet.  (At that scale, the size of the planets is microscopic and
the diameter of the Sun is about 1/4 of a millimeter.  Using the
same scale for size and distance requires a space of about 3 miles
between a barely visible scale model of Pluto at one end and a 32
inch diameter Sun at the other end.)  At least a scale of 1 A.U. =
15 inches will fit inside a hallway or gymnasium and the inner
planets will have a recognizable separation.

Constructing a scale model for distances to our closest
neighboring stars requires a space as large as the contiguous
United States.  If you put the our solar system where Portland,
Oregon is, then Alpha Centauri would be at Los Angeles,
California, Sirius at Little Rock, Arkansas and Procyon at Miami,
Florida.

The second reason people do not understand true space distances is
because popular space and/or science fiction employs multiple warp
drive or hyperspace in order to cross astronomical distances in a
short enough time frame to contain a story plot.

To be a realistic spacefaring people we need some way to express
the experience of traveling astronomical distances accurately in
our own space-time.

PURPOSE:  The Travels of Slimey the Slug and Sunscout I the
Starship in an interactive fable the increases knowledge.  People
understand how long it take to travel specific distances at
different speeds by modeling and comparisons.

OBJECTIVES:    Participants will be able to:

 1.  Use metric measurements for distances.

 2.  Round off numbers to specific place values and multiply them.

 3.  Use Mach numbers, units of light speed and ratios.  Solve
     problems to find needed information.

ACTIVITIES:  The teacher uses a transparency of the activity sheet
that tells the fable of Slimey's and Sunscout's travels with Key
information left blank.  The students follow on their own activity
sheets and refer to what's on the overhead projector.  When the
group comes to missing information, the teacher guides the
students through calculating the answer on scratch paper and then
filling in the blank.  When all the blanks are filled in, the
fable makes sense.

RESOURCES/MATERIALS NEEDED:  

     Activity Sheet Master and Answer Key from:

     Dorothy Diehl
     P.O. Box 441
     Mt. Angel, OR  97362-0041

     (Free with a self addressed stamped envelope.)

TYING IT ALL TOGETHER:  In an era of increasing technology we need
even smarter scientists and engineers to invent even greater
technology to make possible propulsion systems capable of
relativistic velocities.  By describing this engineering challenge
to today's students, some of them may be inspired to become these
pathfinders and make possible star travel in our real space-time
and in our future.


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John Kurilecjmk@ofcn.org