Your Own Terrestrial Planet Without Atmosphere




About: I had been interested in DIY activities since my childhood. One of my DIY activity - astronomy and telescope making took me on a path to join professional body of astronomers.

This a simple classroom or science at home project that has a good edutainment value even at primary school level.

The Science Part
Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are called terrestrial planets as these have 'land' to stand-on.  We may also add moon to the list. Lunar and Mervury surfaces are highly cratered. These craters were formed about 4 billion years ago when the solar system was just born (about 0.3 byr ago) and taking it's present shape.  At that time there were large number of small bodies flying in the solar system and naturally colliding with the other planets. 

The gaseous planets like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune simply swallowed these debris. But on terrestrial planets these missiles left their mark in the form of a craters. 

On planets like the Earth, Venus and Mars most of these makes were eroded by changing weather on these planets.  Whereas Mercury and Moon, which have little atmosphere, have retained their poke marks. 

Thus - if one goes exploring planets of other suns and come across a planet which has highly cratered surface then it is quite likely that the planet has little or no atmosphere.

Study of these features on the planets has helped astronomer to get insight into how the surfaces of these planets have evolved over a period of time.

The Fun Part
---->>>> begins from the next step

Step 1: DIY Surface of a Planet Without an Atmosphere

For this project we required

A) Quick setting Plaster of Paris ( POP )  available in the hardware shops. Cost of 5 k.g. POP (about 1 USD).
( POP  is a white powder that, when mixed with water to form a paste, will turn hard in a few minutes. POP is made by heating gypsum, a mineral composed of calcium sulfate and water. )

B) A cardboard box tray  of 20 x 20 x 5 cm. Normally 8 inch pizza comes in a box of this size.  We need only one side of the box 

C) 250ml cup - a Styrofoam cup will do. 

D) A white sheet of paper (standard wall calendar will do).

E) A vessel to mix POP.

F) A pair of rubber gloves (for every player)

Also a few sheet of newspapers, scotch or paper tape to stick the sides of the pizza box if needed.

Step 2: POP Mix

We now mix POP and water -

You may have to make a few trial before arriving at your own formula.
Take two full measures of POP (D) is taken on a sheet of paper. And Three measures of plain water in a big broad pan (E).

Mix POP from (D) into water in (E).  This operation has to be carried out quickly. To make smooth paste, while mixing POP to the water one needs to keep stirring the mixture and avoid formation of lumps.

Once all of POP is poured in the water and smooth slurry is make, pour the mixture in the tray (A). It is OK to have a few bubbles in the mixture.  These will be the craters.

Step 3: Make Your Own Craters

To make more craters sprinkle or spray water with your fingers on this still unset mold.

You may also drop a few larger droplets using a dropper.

Step 4: It Is Done Now

We are now almost done. Allow it to dry.

It would help to spray a little amount of water to slow down drying. This will avoid formation of cracks.

After the surface has dried completely take it out of the cardboard box and mounted or placed.

Step 5: What Next - 1

You could also let the surface dry unevenly generating cracks and valleys.

You may add a bit of red or brown colour or rouge (ferric oxide) to POP.
Surface of Mars has ferric oxide on it to get it a reddish hue.

And never mind if your mixture becomes too lumpy.

Here is what you can do -- make some mountains on the planetary surface.

Every child will have his or her own piece of land. You may even ask children to name the features on the planet.

Step 6: What Next - 2

More science

You can ask the students to study the craters and tell you what do the infer?

There are large and small size craters.  Some craters on top of the other - indicating those were formed later.

You may also add little extra water to slow down setting of POP and thenuUsing a standard dropper - put drops from different heights.
A drop from higher height will make larger crater. What does that tell us?

How about dropping a small stone -

Variations could be many -

And children love this project - slushy - muddy clay to play with too.



    • Build a Tool Contest

      Build a Tool Contest
    • Pie Contest

      Pie Contest
    • Trash to Treasure

      Trash to Treasure

    28 Discussions


    4 months ago

    This is GREAT! Also check out my Phake Planet Photography elsewhere on this site. This is a nice companion piece to it or mine to yours. I think we're in a niche corner of instructables that a lot of people aren't appreciating.


    3 years ago

    My own project, which I need a hand with, is displayed here: The 10kV spark generator is my missing ingredient, so Instructables please step forward with a design!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I suppose you could put Bicarbonate of soda in the mix for it to create random craters.
    It would be interesting to see what it looks like.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    You're very welcome.
    As a film maker it's quite tempting to see how realistic one can re-create the Apollo 11 landing.
    Obviously the conspirisists will go crazy if I'm successful.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Just as a 4 yr late update. I met a S.African who knew that a studio 'hanger' was built in SA exactly before the Apollo 11 Moon shot. No doubt this was the NASA insurance policy as featured in Capricorn 1.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    You know, when I saw the photo for this instructable, I thought it was an astrophoto instructable. It looks uncannily like some of my webcam moon photos (attached)!  The color and texture are good.  Great work!

    One difference is that your craters have less of a flat bottom than a lot of the larger moon craters.  Any idea why?

    3 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Physics does not scale very well in this particular field...
    See, if a meteor crashes into our moon, a lot of debris is thrown not only outwards, but also upwards (as you can see it if you dump a heavy stone into water). As gravity pulls it down, it gets spread a little bit... And there is the key: The height compared to the gravitational force is different if you do it bigscale on the moon and smallscale on the earth.

    Also on the moon the craters filled up by the millenias of small but constant solar winds... From time to time particles get pulled off the surface and travel a few feet before they fall into a depression and get trapped for another millenia. The bigger the depression the more trapping-effect it has. And a sizeable crater is quite a depression. :)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    The Key difference would be material, I'd assume. While this is a fantastic simulation of the formation of a planet (btw, I am definitely going to use this for my 8th grade astronomy class this year), it is just a simulation. There are different forces at work for a large object like the moon being hit at tremendous speeds by an asteroid. The energy released from an impact of an asteroid will usually partially heat up and melt the surface that is hit, especially during the moon's early stages when it was forming and the thin crust was still cooling off. Also debri is usually thrown up and brought back down by gravity. Plaster on the other hand, hardens as it dries out instead of cooling off.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    The difference is part material and part scale. Your photo resembles very small craters seen on the moon, while also looking like larger craters found on the moons of Saturn which are made of ice instead of rock. I'm sure that if your instructions are followed on a much larger scale then the craters will look more lunar. I've also gotten Marslike craters by adding a bit too much water.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    nice project.. but just for the record recent studies have shown that the moon was created more than 5+ billions years ago.. moon rocks were dated at 5.3 billion years old, and the dust upon which they were resting was at least another billion years older.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry for the delayed reply.
    Well to the best of my knowledge the age of the earth itself is about 4.6 billion years or so (which is also the age of the solar system) and the moon formed due to an impact of a mars size body with the earth about 50 million years later. I think the 5 byr is stretching the age too far back in time.

    Dream Dragon

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Ohhh you rotter!

    You have me thinking of all kinds of things to do with plaster in pizza boxes now, and I REALLY should be doing something much more productive!

    Wonder if you could model tectonic movement by casting a thin slab, breaking it, moving it a little and then casting more over the top...

    What about sprinkling the surface with dry dust and larger particles...

    How about layering different materials like WAX...
    (Yes I KNOW wax is immiscible in water, but you don't WANT it to MIX exactly, just make a layer of different texture and flexibility.)

    Dammit! On with the rest of my day, but than you for sharing.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Unfortunately, the Face of Mars is less a face, more of just a trick of the light.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, I want to recreate feature on Mars so that when I shine light at it from a certain angle, it will also look like a face


    7 years ago on Step 6

    After the latest disclosures it seems Mars is not at all redish ;). Personally I don't know how it is.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This could be a useful method to make terrain blocks for tabletop gaming. I must tell my teacher about this for the Astronomy class he teaches.

    1 reply