Making a model of the solar system is both educational and visually cool. Styrofoam balls make ideal planets since they're lightweight, easy to hang, round and come in a variety of sizes. The challenge is that painting on Styrofoam is difficult because of the texture, and some types of paint -- including spray paint -- contain solvents that will just melt the foam and turn it into a gooey mess. But with the right kind of water-based paint and the proper ball sizes, your model will attract lots of compliments.
Choose Your Balls
To make a model of the solar system you'll need 10 balls in different sizes. You won't be able to accurately represent the proportion of the sun to the planets, since in reality it's much too large. Instead, the ball you'll use for the sun should just be the largest one of the lot. To put a ring around Saturn, you'll also need a Styrofoam ring.
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Things You'll Need
6-inch ball for the sun
4-inch ball for Jupiter
3-inch ball for Saturn
Styrofoam ring with 3-inch opening for Saturn's ring
2 1/2-inch ball for Uranus
2-inch ball for Neptune
1 1/2-inch balls (2) for Earth and Venus
1 1/4-inch balls for Mars
1-inch ball for Mercury
3/4-inch ball for Pluto
Debate has raged around Pluto's status as a planet. It was downgraded to dwarf planet in 2003, but it may turn out to be larger than astronomers thought. You can include Pluto as a planet if you like, or leave it off your model.
Paint Your Planets
Once you have your Styrofoam balls, you need the paint to turn them into models of the planets. The easiest way to paint your planets is to use water-based acrylic paints and artist's paint brushes. Water-based latex house paints will work as well, but it's less cost-effective since you have to purchase larger quantities of each color than you'll need. If you have an air brush, you can also choose to use water-based air-brush colors instead.
Things You'll Need
Small and medium-sized artist's paint brushes
Cup of water for rinsing brushes
Acrylic paints in the following colors:
- Bright yellow for the sun
- Dark orange and brown for Jupiter
- Light green and coral for Saturn and Saturn's ring
- Terracotta and moss green for Uranus and Neptune
- Light blue and bright green for Earth
- Dark blue for Venus
- Bright red for Mars
- Orange for Mercury
- Purple for Pluto
Bright yellow for the sun
Dark orange and brown for Jupiter
Light green and coral for Saturn and Saturn's ring
Terracotta and moss green for Uranus and Neptune
Light blue and bright green for Earth
Dark blue for Venus
Bright red for Mars
Orange for Mercury
Purple for Pluto
- For the sun and single-color planets including Mercury, Venus, Mars and Pluto, insert a toothpick into the Styrofoam ball to use as a handle while you paint, and paint the entire ball in the suggested color.
- For Jupiter, paint the ball dark orange. When it is dry, dab spots of brown on the surface using a dry brush or your finger.
- For Uranus, paint the ball terracotta.
When it is dry, dab spots of moss green on the surface using a dry brush or your finger.
- For Neptune, do the opposite -- paint the ball moss green and dab spots of terracotta over top when it's dry.
- For the Earth, paint the ball light blue. When it's dry, paint on bright green spots that approximate the continents.
- For Saturn, paint the ball light green and the ring coral. When the ball is dry, dab small spots of coral on the surface using a dry brush or your finger. Spread a small amount of white glue around the inside of the ring and place it around the middle of the ball.
Hang Your Planets
Now that the planets are painted, you need to be able to hang them from the ceiling or on a mobile. Simple paper clips and fishing line will do the job simply and easily.
Things You'll Need
10 metal paper clips
Pliers or wire cutters.
10 thumb tacks or wire coat hanger
Open each paper clip into a U shape and poke the ends into your Styrofoam balls so only a small loop remains showing. If the ends of the paper clip are too long for your ball, cut some off with wire cutters or a pair of pliers.
Cut lengths of fishing line and tie a piece to the paper clip loop on each planet.
Tie the ends of the fishing line pieces to the thumb tacks, allowing enough string for the planets to hang from the ceiling at the desired height. Alternatively, tie the strings to a coat hanger with the sun model in the center.
Insert the thumb tacks into the ceiling spaced out the way you'd like to see the planets. The sun should be in the middle with the other planets orbiting around it. Alternatively, hang the coat hanger mobile from the ceiling wherever you'd like it.