Getting in Line with Mars and Jupiter

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

Getting in Line with Mars and Jupiter

February 4, 2016

It’s crazy to think that we’re all standing on a giant ball of dirt and rock flying through space. Earth is a “planet” sailing through space, 93 million miles from our Sun. Another 7 major planets spin around the Sun with us, and this week you can see an amazing sight: 5 of those planets are lined up in an almost perfect straight line in the early morning sky. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn all shine so brightly that you can see them with your “naked eye:” you don’t need a telescope or binoculars. Of course, they are all millions of miles apart in the sky…Saturn is almost a billion miles away, which is 1,000 times 1,000 times 1,000! The planets just all happen to be on the same side of the Sun right now, so we can see them all at once. This hasn’t happened in more than 10 years. So while it’s hard to wake up while it’s still dark out to see this, we think it’s worth it.

Wee ones: If you count the 5 planets in a row, what numbers do you say?

Little kids: If we can see 5 of the 7 other major planets, how many of them can we not see?  Bonus: If the last planet line-up was 12 years ago, how old were you then, or how many years later were you born?

Big kids: Jupiter looks like a tiny spot, but it’s about 10 times as wide as Earth. We’re about 8,000 miles wide, so about how wide is Jupiter?  Bonus: Can you “spell” the number 1 billion in digits?

The sky’s the limit — literally: Mercury and Venus always show up near the Sun since they’re closest to it, but the other 3 planets could sit anywhere. If Mercury and Venus are always in the first 2 slots and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are always in the 3rd through 5th slots, in how many orders could the planets line up? (Hint if needed: This gives you far fewer choices than if all 5 could be in any order.)




Wee ones: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Little kids: 2 planets.  Bonus: Different for everyone…subtract 12 from your age, or subtract your age from 12!

Big kids: About 80,000 miles (it’s 86,881, to be more exact).  Bonus: 1,000,000,000!

The sky’s the limit: 12 ways. Mercury and Venus can line up as either MV or VM. For each of those, the remaining 3 planets have 6 possible orders: JMS, JSM, MJS, MSJ, SJM, and SMJ. Since there’s a MV set of those and VM set of those, we have 12 choices.

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About the Author

Laura Overdeck

Laura Overdeck

Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.

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