In this activity, students will learn about the main features of the model of the solar system proposed by Johannes Kepler in his Mysterium Cosmographicum, 1597. In this model, Kepler matched each of the known planetary orbits with one of the Platonic solids, shapes composed of equal faces of the same shape and area. Kepler believed that the planetary orbits could be positioned within a nestled set of these solids. Although considered unusual today, the system of Kepler was revolutionary in that it assumed the heliocentric or sun-centered system of Copernicus as a starting point.
The students will use a coloring page to complete a model of the system of Kepler. Using directions supplied on a separate handout, students first color the key, then color-code the following features:
Directions for coloring, historical background, and basic facts about the system of Kepler are included on the separate directions page.
Kepler is best known for his three laws of planetary motion, which are considered the beginning of astrophysics, and his collaboration with Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. Kepler supported the sun-centered or heliocentric system of Copernicus which was controversial during Kepler's lifetime. Kepler also popularized his observations of the supernova of 1607. Now known as Kepler's Star, the supernova was evidence that the universe was not static and unchanging as Aristotle had proposed.
While teaching a lesson on the planets, Kepler had a vision of the solar system as a set of interlocking geometrical patterns. He later linked these patterns to the five Platonic solids, and placed them in an order that roughly matched the sizes of the planetary orbits. Kepler was influenced by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who had linked the solids to the traditional Greek elements earth, air, fire, and water.
Kepler was invested in his model of the solar system, and never stopped believing in its reality despite an imperfect fit for the planetary orbits. He thought that this system represented God's divine plan for the universe.
In the modern world, the Kepler Space Telescope was named for the famed astronomer. In its operation far from Earth, the telescope discovered 2662 new planets orbiting other stars!
The page concludes with review questions for the students to answer when they finish the coloring page. Keys for the coloring page and review questions are provided. A set of PowerPoint slides is also included in the zip file download. The slides demonstrate the coloring technique for the coloring page, as well as a finished sample.