DIY – The Solar system in papier-maché

This week we decided to start a little science project with our kids: we created the solar system in papier maché.

We wanted it to be as accurate as possible for them to understand the immense depth of space, but with a 7 meter wide living room ceiling the sun itself wouldn’t have been bigger than 1 mm (!!) so we had to do a compromise: we marked out the correct position of the planets against each other, but cheated on the actual size of the planets instead. And now we have a very interesting decoration in our living room on which we can look up in wonder! Below are some calculation doodles.

You’ll need:

* party balloons
* christmas tree balls
* any kind of paper
* scissors
* (acrylic) paint
* water
* flour
* a bowl
* measuring tape
* string
* transparent thumbtacks and transparent string
* pins and needles
* tape

Step [one] – make the papier maché :

1. Mix together one part water and one part flour to a smooth paste. Boil one more part water and add to the paste. Whisk smooth and the paste is ready.

2. Tear lots and lots of paper strips from catalogues, supermarket advertising, newspapers and other kinds of junk paper you might want to get rid of. Store in a bag for easy access.

Step [two] – let’s shape some planets:

1. Start by studying the sizes and distances, we used these awesome 3D images we found online for details and inspiration.

2. Once you’ve decide on your shapes, start dippin’ ! We used christmas tree decorations for Venus and the Earth, rolled small paper balls for Mercury and Mars, blew up balloons for Uranus, Neptune, Saturn and Jupiter.

Dip a strip of paper in the papier maché paste and glue it onto your mould/shape. Continue dipping paper, smoothing out possible creases with your fingers, dip and paste more paper until you feel like you have a well shaped planet in your hand. 2-3 layers should do it. Leave the planets to dry for at least 24 hours until you paint them. You will feel when they are hard and dry, that will be the time to paint!

Step [three] – paint the planets:

1. If you’ve used colourful catalogues as paper, it might be a good idea to do a primer, a plain white paint to cover up ugly underwear advertisements. Let dry for a few hours if you’re using acrylic paint. Again, you’ll know to the touch when the paint is dry and ready to be re-painted.

2. Once the primer paint is dry it’s time to do the fun part! Paint the planets in their characteristic colours and with their typical details and leave them to completely dry. Oh, and if you’re wondering: that orange planet ball was actually suppose to be the sun, although certainly not to scale. We decided not to use it in the end, so it will be re-painted for the Christmas tree next year instead 🙂

Step [four] – installation:

1. Attach a string between the first and last of your planets with thumbtack. Mark out the position of the planets with transparent thumbtacks.

2. Cut away any ugly thread that might have been hanging on the Christmas decorations and replace it with a nice transparent thread instead (a fishing line will do fine!) Attach the tread to the planets by sewing it on through the paper with a needle or use tape. Hang the planet on the correct thumbtack. We painted a piece of cardboard for the rings of Saturn and taped and sewed it in place.