Science - 2017-18

ES.3 - Earth & the Solar System

The student will investigate and understand the characteristics of Earth and the solar system. Key concepts include
a) position of Earth in the solar system;
b) sun-Earth-moon relationships (seasons, tides, and eclipses);
c) characteristics of the sun, planets and their moons, comets, meteors, and asteroids; and
d) the history and contributions of space exploration.

Bloom's Levels:  Analyze; Understand

Adopted: 2010


  • Earth is part of a larger solar system that includes the Sun and Moon. 
  • The relative position and movements of the earth, moon, and sun account for lunar and solar eclipses, the observed moon phases, tides, and seasons.

  • I can explain why Earth is the only suitable planet on which to live.
  • I can describe why Virginia has a cold winter but areas like Florida have warmer winters.
  • I can explain why Earth is the only suitable planet on which to live.
  • I can explain how space exploration makes cell phone use possible.


  • The solar system consists of many types of celestial bodies. Earth is the third planet from the sun and is located between the sun and the asteroid belt. It has one natural satellite, the moon. Water occurs on Earth as a solid (ice), a liquid, or a gas (water vapor) due to Earth’s position in the solar system. 
  • Earth revolves around the sun tilted on its axis. The axial tilt is responsible for the incidence and duration of sunlight striking a given hemisphere that varies during the Earth’s revolution around the Sun, thus causing seasons. Equinoxes and solstices represent four distinct quarterly points signaling the cyclic change of seasons. 
  • The moon revolves around Earth creating the moon phases and eclipses. Solar eclipses occur when the moon blocks sunlight from Earth’s surface, while lunar eclipses occur when Earth blocks sunlight from reaching the moon’s surface. 
  • The tides are the periodic rise and fall of water level caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon. 
  • The sun consists largely of hydrogen gas. Its energy comes from nuclear fusion of hydrogen to helium. 
  • There are essentially two types of planets in our solar system. The four inner (terrestrial) planets consist mostly of solid rock. The four outer planets are gas giants, consisting of thick outer layers of gaseous materials, perhaps with small rocky cores. 
  • The dwarf planet, Pluto, has an unknown composition but appears to be solid. It is part of the Kuiper Belt.
  • Moons are natural satellites of planets and vary widely in composition. 
  • Comets orbit the sun and consist mostly of frozen gases. 
  • A meteoroid is debris located outside Earth's atmosphere; a meteor is debris located within Earth's atmosphere; and a meteorite is debris that has broken apart into smaller pieces before reaching Earth's surface.
  • Asteroids are usually leftover debris of the formation of the solar system, or creations of the collisions of other asteroids. 
  • The atmosphere of Venus is mostly carbon dioxide and very dense. The atmosphere of Mars is very thin and mostly carbon dioxide.
  • Much of our knowledge about the solar system is a result of space exploration efforts. These efforts continue to improve our understanding of the solar system. 


In order to meet this standard, it is expected that students will

a)  analyze the role of 1) the position of Earth in the Solar System; 2) the size of Earth and sun; and 3) Earth’s axial tilt in affecting the evolution of the planet and life on the planet.

b)  analyze historical explanations for the origin of the moon.

     create a model showing the position of Earth, the moon, and the resulting moon phases.

     explain why there is not a solar and lunar eclipse each month.

     create a model showing the position of Earth, moon, and sun during a solar and lunar eclipse.

c)  differentiate between the inner (terrestrial) planets and the outer (gaseous) planets and their corresponding atmospheric characteristics.

     compare and contrast the internal makeup of the four inner planets and explain why they vary so significantly.

     compare and contrast the atmospheres, planetary makeup, surface conditions, and rotation of the planets.

     compare the classification of the dwarf planet Pluto to the planets in relation to its orbit, and its similarity to other objects in the Kuiper Belt.

     compare and contrast the defining characteristics among moons, comets, meteoroids, and asteroids.

     compare and contrast the characteristics of Venus, Earth, Mercury, and Mars, and interpret various reasons why each planet has such characteristics.

     predict what conditions we would need to have in place for another celestial object to support life.

d)  compare the various types of evidence obtained from the Apollo moon landings and other lunar exploration and how this is used to inform thinking about the moon.

     analyze how the role of technology (Galileo’s telescope, Hubble telescope, planetary orbiters, landers/rovers) has contributed to social and scientific change and enlightenment.

     create a timeline of key events in space exploration. 


aphelion, autumnal equinox, axis, collision theory, eclipse, ellipse, lunar eclipse, moon phases, orbit, penumbra, perihelion, revolution, rotation, seasons, solar eclipse, summer solstice, umbra, vernal equinox, waning, waxing, winter solstice, Apollo 11, asteroids, chromosphere, coma, comets, Copernicus, corona, dust tail, Galileo, Great Red Spot, Hubble space telescope, Kepler, meteor, meteorite, meteoroidi, nebula theory, nebula, nucleus, Olympus Mons, Oort Cloud, photosphere, planetesimals, Ptolemy, runaway greenhouse effect, solar flares, solar prominences, solar system, solar, space race, sun, sun spots, terrestrial, Valles Marineris

Updated: Nov 28, 2017