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3 - Solar Systems

Link to Astronomy at West

This course was designed by Justin Higgins for use at Millard West High School. Some of the material that is listed here cannot be made public to the internet. 

If you are a educator in my district, email Mr. Higgins at for access to these files. - Higgins

Module 3: Solar Systems
Link to Module 3: Solar Systems


  • Student will be able to apply the nebular theory to explain why we have terrestrial and jovian planets

  • Student will be able to demonstrate an understanding of how gravity shapes a planet

  • Student will be able to apply Kepler's laws to orbiting bodies.

  • Student will be able to model a solar system other than our own demonstrating their knowledge of how a planetary system forms

Core Materials (with time estimates)
3A - Nebular Hypothesis of Solar System Formation - 20 minutes
Link to 3A - Nebular Hypothesis of Solar System Formation
20 Minutes
3A Quiz - 15 Minutes
3A Quiz Key
3A Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

Concept Focus
    • What is a Nebula and how does it relate to the Nebular Hypothesis?
    • How does accretion explain how the Pre-solar Nebula collapsed? (use the term gravity)
    • How large are Pre-solar Nebula?
    Review & Summarize
    1. Draw a flow-chart that shows HOW the gasses in a Nebula collapse using the terms from the video. This diagram should have an arrow leading off the page, it will continue in 3B.
    Link to 3B - The Sun and Planetary Disc Formation

    20 Minutes
    3B Quiz - 15 Minutes
    3B Quiz Key
    3B Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

    Concept Focus
      • How does a Protoplanetary Disc form?
      • Why is a Proto-star NOT a Star yet?
      • How does a Proto-star become a Star?
      Review & Summarize
      1. Draw a continued flow-chart from 3A, that shows how the Protoplanetary Disc, its relationship to the Proto-star, and what causes the transition to a Star.
      • Looking...

      Link to 3C - Solar Wind creates Terrestrial & Jovian Planets

      25 Minutes
      3C Quiz - 15 Minutes
      3C Quiz Key
      3C Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

      Concept Focus
        • How does the Solar Wind cause a Frost Line to form?
        • What are the properties of Terrestrial (Rocky) vs Jovian (Gaseous) planets?
        • Explain why we have Terrestrial (Rocky) vs Jovian (Gaseous) planets.
        Review & Summarize
        1. Draw a flow-chart of how the Solar Wind and Frost Line created the Terrestrial (Rocky) and Jovian (Gaseous) planets.
          3D - What makes a planet a Planet? - 25 minutes
          Link to 3D - What makes a planet a Planet?

          25 Minutes
          3D Quiz - 15 Minutes
          3D Quiz Key
          3D Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

          Concept Focus
            • What does a Planet have to Revolve around?
            • How does Mass/Gravity make an solar system object a Planet?
            • What does a Planet do to the other objects in its Orbit
            Review & Summarize
            1. Give an explanation as to why Pluto is not a Planet using the rules of what makes a planet a Planet.
            3E - Stuff that is NOT Planets, Celestial Bodies - 40 minutes
            3E - Stuff that is NOT Planets, Celestial Bodies

            40 Minutes
            3E Quiz - 15 Minutes
            3E Quiz Key
            3E Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

            Concept Focus
              • A very long note video. Students should make sure to summarize each of the types of bodies and compare them. 
                • Meteoroids
                • Asteroids
                • Comets
                • Dwarf Planets
              Review & Summarize
              1. Research and describe the Dwarf Planets Vesta and Ceres
                Link to read more about these Dwarf Planets
              3F - Gravitational Force, Celestial Mechanics

              25 Minutes
              3F Quiz - 15 Minutes
              3F Quiz Key
              3F Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

              Concept Focus
                • Know what each of the variables stand for in the Gravity Equation
                Review & Summarize
                1. Write a short story of two planets and how Gravity acts between them. What happens to Gravity if the two planets are moved twice as far away from each other? What happens to Gravity as they move closer?

                3G -
                The Greenhouse Effect on Planets - 25 minutes
                3G - The Greenhouse Effect on Planets

                25 Minutes
                3G Quiz - 15 Minutes
                3G Quiz Key
                3G Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

                Concept Focus
                  • What does the Greenhouse Effect do for a Planet?
                  • Compare the energy absorption of the following gasses:
                    • Water
                    • Carbon Dioxide
                    • Methane
                  Review & Summarize
                  1. Compare and contrast the atmospheres of Venus and Mars
                  • Looking...
                  3H - Escape Velocity and Orbits - 15 minutes
                  3H - Escape Velocity and Orbits

                  15 Minutes
                  3H Quiz - 15 Minutes
                  3H Quiz Key
                  3H Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

                  Concept Focus
                    • How the Densities of the planets are different/
                    • How the Surface Gravitation of the planets different?
                    • How is Escape Velocity applied?
                    Review & Summarize
                    1. Write 'None'. Credit for this is tied up in the Stomp Rockets Project (Weather Permitting)
                    • Looking...
                    3I - Orbits are not circles - 15 minutes
                    3I - Orbits are not circles

                    15 Minutes
                    3I Quiz - 15 Minutes
                    3I Quiz Key
                    3I Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

                    Concept Focus
                      • Orbital Eccentricity
                      • Inclination to the Ecliptic
                      • Direction of 'most' of the orbits in our system
                      Review & Summarize
                      1. Describe why the formation of our Solar System did not cause many objects to form more than 10° of Inclination to the Ecliptic
                      3J - Kepler's Laws of Orbits, Celestial Mechanics

                      25 Minutes
                      3J Quiz - 15 Minutes
                      3J Quiz Key
                      3J Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

                      Concept Focus
                        • Kepler's 1st Law
                        • Kepler's 2nd Law (time, area, distance)
                        • Kepler's 3rd Law (Period, Semi-Major Axis)
                        Review & Summarize
                        1. Write 'None' as summary.
                        • Looking...

                        3K - Exoplanets and how we detect them

                        35 Minutes
                        3K Quiz - 15 Minutes
                        3K Quiz Key
                        3K Video Link - Use this if the video doesn't load

                        Concept Focus
                          • Exoplanets
                          • How to find Expoplanets using the:
                            • Transit Method
                            • Wobble (Astrometry) Method
                            • Direct Imaging Method
                          Review & Summarize
                          1. Find an Exoplanet that has been discovered in the past 6 months and describe it
                          Celebrations of Learning
                          • Solar System Kahoot! - 35 minutes
                            • Multiple Choice Test Review*
                              • Students are REQUIRED to be logged into the MPS domain to take this review
                          • Module 3 Multiple Choice Summative Assessment - 20 minutes
                            • NO RETAKE ALLOWED
                          • Module 3 Diagramming Formative Assessment - 45 minutes
                            • Students are allowed one retake, there are two different forms of the test.
                          Nebraska state standards assessed in this Module:
                          • Inquiry, the Nature of Science, and Technology
                            • SC12.1.1.e Use tools and technology to make detailed qualitative and quantitative observations
                            • SC12.1.1.g Analyze and interpret data, synthesize ideas, formulate and evaluatemodels, and clarify concepts and explanations
                            • SC12.1.1.i Propose and/orevaluate possible revisions and alternate explanations
                            • SC12.1.1.k Evaluate scientific investigations and offer revisions and new ideas as appropriate
                            • SC12.1.2.a Recognize that scientific explanations must be open to questions, possible modifications, and must be based upon historical and current scientific knowledge
                            • SC12.1.2.b Describe how society influences the work of scientists and how science, technology, and current scientific discoveries influence and change society
                            • SC12.1.2.c Recognize that the work of science results in incremental advances, almost always building on prior knowledge, in our understanding of the world
                            • SC12.1.2.d Research and describe the difficulties experienced by scientific innovators who had to overcome commonly held beliefs of their times to reach conclusions that we now take for granted
                          • Physical Science
                            • SC12.2.2.f Describe gravity as a force that each mass exerts on another mass, which is proportional to the masses and the distance between them
                            • SC12.2.3.h Recognize that nuclear reactions (fission, fusion, radioactive decay) convert a fraction of the mass of interacting particles into energy, and this amount of energy is much greater than the energy in chemical interactions
                          • Earth and Space Science
                            • SC12.4.1.b Recognize that stars, like the Sun, transform matter into energy by nuclear reactions which leads to the formation of other elements
                            • SC12.4.4.c Compare and contrast the physical and biological differences of the early Earth with the planet we live on today

                          Material being evaluated

                          StarryNight Simulations
                          • StarryNight Simulations The simulation software stopped working as we migrated to Google. Removed from main course. These may be returned to the course if they ever work again.
                            • StarryNight Simulation C3: The Moons of the Planets (15-20 minutes)*
                            • StarryNight Simulation C4: Pluto as a Dwarf Planet (20-30 minutes)*
                            • StarryNight Simulation D1: Asteroids of the Main Belt (10-15 minutes)*
                            • StarryNight Simulation D2: Comets and Meteors (20-30 minutes)*
                            • StarryNight Simulation D3: Impact: Near Earth Objects (15-20 minutes)*
                          • Lab - PhET - The Greenhouse Effect
                          • Lab - PhET - Gravity and Orbits
                          • The Universe Season 1 "Mercury & Venus: The Inner Planets"
                          • The Universe Season 1 "The Outer Planets"
                          • The Universe Season 1 "Jupiter: The Giant Planet"
                          • The Universe Season 2 "Gravity"
                          • The Universe Season 2 "Astrobiology"
                          • The Universe Season 3 "Another Earth"
                          • Extrasolar Planet Radial Velocity Demonstrator ( Attribution: University of Nebraska at Lincoln )