Meet our Neighbour: Planet Neptune!

:: Description ::

In this activity groups of visually impaired students and their sighted peers are invited to use daily basis items and recycled materials to build a tactile schematic image of a celestial object from our solar system. In a group activity, they are also encouraged to research about our celestial neighbour and its main characteristics.

This activity is planned for groups of children from 6 to 12 years old, and their educators gathered in groups of 3 to 5 children (for example three sighted children and two visually impaired). The activity can be implemented at three stages that can be done separately:

  • Research on the celestial object by the children prior to the activity;
  • Build the tactile image in a hands-on performed by the sighted children closely interacting with their visually impaired peers;
  • Tactile exploration of the final schematic image by visually impaired children.

Variations of the activity can also be conducted. For instance, promote activities for sighted children in which they learn and build the tactile images and then promote explanatory sessions to their visually impaired peers.

In all stances, it is strongly advised to stimulate interactions between sighted children and their visually impaired peers.

:: Materials ::


Tactile features present in planet Neptune and correspondent suggested textures:

  • Thin wire;
  • Thin fabric;
  • Thick fabric;
  • Sand;
  • Cotton;
  • Black and white prints of image (x2) and mold (x1). Click links to Download.

These materials are only suggestions; all textures can be replaced by low-cost local materials from each community that plans to implement “Meet our Neighbours!”.

:: The Scientist Explains ::

Neptune is the eight and most distant planet in the solar system. Its distance from the Sun is 4.5 million kilometers, or 30 times the distance between the Sun and Earth, and it takes 164.8 years to complete its orbit. It is slightly smaller than Uranus, with a diameter of 48,000 km (3.8 times that of Earth) and its mass is 17.2 times that of Earth.

The discovery of Neptune in 1846 is the result of a prediction made by the French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier, based on his calculations, to explain the observed irregularities of Uranus’s motion along its orbit. It is considered one of the major successes of fundamental astronomy, the study of the motion of celestial objects.
Like Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus, it is a giant gaseous planet mainly composed of hydrogen and helium, but like Uranus, it has a larger proportion of heavier constituents such as ammonia, methane, and water.

Despite its cold temperature, on average -160°C, the atmosphere shows a surprisingly active meteorological activity. In the southern hemisphere, regions of convective motion (warm air moving upward) appear with a slightly fainter blue colour (materialized in the tactile image by the fabric strip of different texture). The south pole itself seems to be a region of strong convective activity, allowing methane gas coming from the interior to reach the upper atmosphere despite the very cold temperature.

During its encounter with the planet in 1989, the Voyager 2 spacecraft discovered several dark spots (materialized by the twisted wires on the tactile image) ; they are storms similar to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, but without any coloration. There are also a few white clouds floating high up in the atmosphere (materialized by the clumps of cotton on the tactile image). These clouds are composed of methane, a gas that freezes when the temperature is below -180°C.

Because the upper atmosphere is relatively clear of clouds and haze particles, it has a blue colour characteristic of clear skies on Earth. Also, one of the properties of methane gas is to absorb red light, so the blue light strongly dominates in visible images of the planet.

Like all three other giant planets, Neptune has a system of rings (materialized by the glued-on sand on the tactile image). The three main rings, and like Uranus’s rings, they are very dark and tenuous, and, therefore, cannot be easily observed with most instruments from Earth.
Neptune is surrounded by 13 natural satellites, the largest of them Triton.


:: Full Activity Description ::

Prior to the activity:

  • Gather the children in groups of 5 elements – visually impaired and non-visually impaired (ideally three non-visually impaired to 2 visually impaired);
  • Present one image per group;
  • Distribute materials accordingly;

During the activity:

  • Close supervision – follow each group and explain each of the tactile elements and their correspondence to the each object feature;
  • Understand the different needs of each group of students to promote interaction between the children during the building of the tactile image – visually impaired children need to be familiarized with the different materials involved;

Building the tactile image:

Print image 011_Neptune_Image (x2) and 011_Neptune_Mold (x1), in a regular black and white printer;

Cut the rounded section of 011_Neptune_Mold;

Place it on top of the fabric and with a pen outline this shape;

Cut the fabric accordingly to the area outlined;

Place abundant glue on 011_Neptune_Image that corresponds to the cut area and place the fabric on top of the glue;

Cut the section 1 on 011_Neptune_Mold (use the numbered section only);

Place the cut shape on top of the fabric and with a pen outline this shape;

Glue the section on top of the glued fabric accordingly;

Curl the plastic wire until it has the same size of round shape and glue it on top of the denoted round sections;

Place the glue on top of the dark area denoting the ring and place the sand on top of the glue;

Wait for the image to dry. This may take a while.

Glue the cotton on top of the denoted curved sections;

Wait for the image to dry. It might take a while before you can explore the image.

:: Exploring the tactile image ::
There are several ways in which you can explore the scientific content of the tactile schematic images.

If you’re presenting the final tactile image to the children, first let them explore and feel the different textures. Questions will arise as the child explores and it is important to guide them. Read “The Scientist Explains” to understand the different features present in Neptune’s schematic tactile image.