Heritage Village, East Grand Forks, Minnesota

The Planet Distances Exhibit is located behind the Amundson Building. Posts have been placed in the ground for each planet.

Space Studies

Planet Distances

Teacher’s introduction to the material:

Students may know that planets are at different distances from the Sun, but are not able to visualize the implications the distances make for the planets. This lesson helps make the educational material concrete, thus easier to understand for young children.



    1. Tell the students that all the planets in our solar system orbit the Sun, but they are at different distances. Discuss with the students how the distance from the Sun would influence the length of a year (one orbit around the sun); how the speed of rotation would influence the length of a day on the planet and how rotation direction would influence where the sun rises and sets. (Does the sun rise in the the east and set in the west on every planet?)
    2. Starting at the Sun post; have the students pace off each planet post and read the information about the planet. Continue the discussion about distance, size and rotation as they progress through the solar system.


The Sun is the closest star to Earth. The Sun is 92.96 million miles from Earth. This distance is known as an astronomical unit and sets the scale for measuring distances across the solar system. The Sun is a huge sphere of mostly ionized gas, that supports life on earth. The interactions between the Sun and the Earth drive the seasons, ocean currents, weather and climate on Earth.



Mercury speeds around the Sun every 88 days, traveling through space at nearly 31 miles per second which is faster than any other planet. The time between one sunrise and the next sunrise is 175.97 Earth days. Mercury has no atmosphere to regulate surface temperature. Instead of an atmosphere Mercury has an “Exosphere” made up of hydrogen, helium, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.


Venus and Earth are similar in size, mass, density, composition, and gravity. Venus is covered by a thick, rapidly spinning atmosphere, creating a scorched world with temperatures hot enough to melt lead and surface pressure 90 times that of Earth. Venus’s atmosphere consists mainly of carbon dioxide, with clouds of sulfuric acid droplets. The thick atmosphere traps the Suns’ heat, resulting in surface temperatures higher than 880°F. Venus rotates retrograde (east to west) compared to Earth that rotates prograde (west to east). Standing on Venus the Sun would rise in the west and set in the east. A year on Venus is about 225 Earth days long. The time between one sunrise and the next sunrise is 116.75 Earth days long.


Earth is the only planet in our solar system known to harbor life. Earth is the third planet from the sun and the fifth largest planet in the solar system. The four seasons on earth are the result of the axis of rotation being tilted 23.45° with respect to the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the sun. During part of the year, the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun and the southern hemisphere is tilted away, producing summer in the north and winter in the south. Six months later, the situation is reversed; with the northern hemisphere tilted away from the Sun and the southern hemisphere tilted toward the Sun, producing winter in the north and summer in the south. The atmosphere of the earth consists of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other ingredients.


Mars is a rocky planet about half the size of Earth. Mars has two small moons. Like Earth, Mars experiences seasons due to the total tilt of its rotational axis. The cold temperatures and thin atmosphere of Mars do not allow liquid water to exist at the surface for long. The time between one sunrise and the next sunrise is 24.660 Earth hours.

Asteroid Belt

Asteroid Belt - asteroids are rocky remains from the early formation of the solar system. Asteroids range in size from 590 miles in diameter to .6 miles in diameter the C – type asteroids consist of clay and silicate rocks. The S – type asteroids are made up of silicate materials and nickel – iron. The M — type asteroids are metallic (nickel – iron). Scientist on earth monitor the asteroid belt because asteroids that approach Earth’s orbit may pose an impact danger.



Jupiter is the largest and most massive planet in our solar system. Jupiter’s atmosphere is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter has four large moons and many small moons. In total Jupiter has more than 60 moons. In 1979 NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft discovered the rings of Jupiter. The time between one sunrise and the next sunrise is 10 Earth hours.


Saturn’s atmosphere is made up of mainly hydrogen and helium. Wind speeds in the upper atmosphere reach 1600 feet per second in the equatorial region. In contrast, the strongest hurricane – force winds on Earth top out at about 360 feet per second. The superfast winds on Saturn, combined with heat rising from within the planet’s interior, cause the yellow and gold bands visible in the atmosphere. Saturn has seven main rings and 53 known moons.


Uranus was the first planet found with the aid of a telescope in 1781. It takes Uranus 84 Earth years to complete one orbit around the sun. Uranus rotates retrograde (east to west) compared to Earth that rotates prograde (west to east). The atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium, with a small amount of methane and traces of water and ammonia. Uranus gets its blue – green color from methane gas in the atmosphere. Uranus has two sets of rings and 27 known moons.


Neptune was the first planet located through mathematical predictions rather than through regular observations of the sky. It is invisible to the naked eye because of its extreme distance from Earth. Neptune orbits the sun once every 165 Earth years. Neptune has six known rings and 13 known moons.