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Outer Space and Our Solar System

Posted on September 11 2022

Outer Space and Our Solar System


Dear Educator,

This week, Maps101 is turning our attention beyond Earth—toward outer space. All we have to do is look up, on a clear night, and see that Earth is only a small part of the universe. If you are lucky enough to live without light pollution, you will see A LOT of stars. But even in cities, viewing stars in the night sky (or early morning sky) is possible. Some of the “stars” are planets in our solar system. In September, the Red Planet, Mars is visible as a red-tinged point of light, for example. How many people have gazed up at the sky, throughout the millennia, with wonder? That pull toward the unknown helped propel humankind to begin exploring space. Today, NASA has launched satellites and spacecraft with cameras that have taken extraordinary images of distant planets, such as Jupiter. Mankind’s connection to objects in space began, however, with the Apollo landing on the moon. There is much to explore about space, thus with virtual binoculars in hand, we are off to the sky, with Maps101.

Our first stop is an overview of our solar system. Students need to know the names of and the order of the planets that travel around the sun. This map is for elementary students, but it is applicable to any student to be reminded of our planetary system. Which planet, besides Earth, are students most interested in, and why?

Now that students have reviewed the solar system, let’s dive a little deeper and take this virtual field trip to each planet. You can write the name of each planet on the board and have students call out what they know about each planet from prior knowledge. This is a great way to test where students are. Then, group students and assign a planet to each group for students to research more. Have groups present their findings in class. What new information did students discover about each planet?


Students should recall that Venus is Earth’s neighbor closer to the sun. This makes the planet considerably hotter than Earth. This GNN article explores more about this planet. Students will learn similarities of both planets, and the accompanying map identifies key features on Venus. Scientists are interested in studying Venus as it may bring clues to better understanding Earth.


Next, let’s take a look the Red Planet, Mars. It is also Earth’s neighbor, but it is farther from the sun. People have been fascinated with this planet, imagining that life may have existed there in the past. This article is written at a level meant to engage upper elementary students.


Outer space has been a large unknown for most of humankind’s existence. But as technology grew, efforts to send people beyond Earth orbit deeper into space became a reality with the Apollo program and Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon. This GNN article delves into that momentous occasion that had most Americans watching the events unfold live on their televisions. Encourage students to interview someone who watched the Apollo landing live at the time to get their reaction to this event. Students can then compare their interviews to get a better understanding of how pivotal the Apollo Mission was.


This week, we have one last stop on our space adventure. This interactive Field Trip covers topics from the earliest ability to explore space with satellites, the Apollo Program, different countries entering space exploration, to plans for future journeys into space. You can use the comprehension quiz to ensure students understood the main ideas of the Field Trip. We also suggest you assign a panel from the 10 featured in the Field Trip for students to conduct further research about and present what they have learned to the class. This could be done individually or in groups.


We hope you have enjoyed this mini-sample of Maps101 content about space, planets, and the night sky. This is by no means a complete listing, but it will give you an idea of the type of content available with your subscription. We hope your weekly tour of topics in the GeoJournal helps not just inform you of themes you can focus on throughout the year, but that it also draws your attention to content you may not have realized is available. Happy hunting for more content that benefits your class this school year. And don’t forget to favorite to save what you use often for easy access.

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