Two Views of the Universe

Smithsonian Institution Libraries

These exercises and lesson plans are designed to accompany and enrich the study and discussion of the June 2004 Transit of Venus.


solar system


Students will recognize how assumptions about how the universe works results in different views of the parts of the universe, i.e., the sun, the planets, and the stars

Grade Level:



  • Build two models of the universe, that of Aristotle and that of Copernicus
  • Describe and list the differences for each component between the two models
  • Hypothesize how each component's function changes according to the view used (younger students will tell a story about how the different systems work)

Subject Area or Standard:

Science and Geography

Materials Needed:

  • Markers, crayons or colored pencils
  • Poster board or construction paper
  • Paper mache or Styrofoam balls or plastic balls and baloons of different sizes.
  • Diagrams of the two views of the Universe (below)








Scale diameters of planets

Mercury ---------------- .76 inches

Venus ----------------- 1.9 inches

Earth ------------------ 2 inches

Mars ------------------ 1.06 inches

Jupiter ---------------- 22.36 inches

Saturn ---------------- 18 inches

Uranus ---------------- 7.74 inches

Neptune -------------- 7.8 inches

Pluto ------------------ .54 inches



  1. Cut the poster board in strips of different lengths to form the orbits for the various components.
  2. Use markers or pencil to represent the "fixed" stars on the orbits according to each view.
  3. Color and label each of the different sized balls as the sun and each of the planets.
  4. Build the two models, remembering to fix in place either the earth or sun accordingly.
  5. Simulate the orbits of each model.
  6. Discuss the differences.



Instead of making the models, assign the roles of sun, stars, and planets to the students and have them "act out" the two views of the universe.

Song about the solar system for younger children: