This lesson is based on California's Middle School Integrated Model of NGSS.
NGSS Performance Expectation (PE): (MS-ESS1-3) Analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system.
Science and Engineering Practice 2: Developing and using models.
Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI): ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System - The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them.
Crosscutting Concepts (CCC): Systems and System Models - Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions.
This lesson was inspired by "Take-Home Physics: 65 High-Impact, Low-Cost Labs" by Michael Horton and published by NSTA Press.
Students will use an index card with a hole punched in it to project an image of the Sun on their paper. A simple ratio comparing the a) distance from the index card, b) the size of the projected image, and c) the known distance to the Sun in order to calculate d) the actual diameter of the Sun. Measurements and conversion skills are necessary in order to perform this activity. Your students will be able to see the projected image of the Sun as a scale model compared to the actual size of the Sun and make inferences about it's overall mass compared to the planets in our Solar System (MS-EES1-3).
Needed Fact: The Sun is on average 150,000,000,000 meters from the Earth.
Pass out a copy of Measuring the Diameter of the Sun Lab to each student. Allow them to work outside on a sunny day. Explain that they will need to face the Sun as perpendicular as possible, otherwise they may alter their Sun sketch.
In this lab I have my students place the index card 1 meter from their paper. I prefer the simplicity of dividing by 1. The further you can place the index card from the projected image the more accurate this technique becomes.
At the conclusion of this activity I have my students calculate their percentage of error. To do this you would subtract the published diameter of the Sun from their calculated value and divide by the published diameter and multiply this answer by 100 to get a percentage of error.
Student Work Sample
If you would like to provide your students with background knowledge about the Sun I have included The Sun Is Our Local Star, a Powerpoint presentation that includes details about the layers of the Sun along with stunning NASA photos.