Meet our Neighbour: Planet Saturn!

:: 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 3 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 Saturn and correspondent suggested textures:

  • Thin fabric;
  • Thick fabric;
  • Sand;
  • 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 ::

[General Information]
Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system. Its equatorial diameter is 120,000 km (9.5 that of Earth) and its mass equals 95 times that of Earth. Its average distance from the Sun is 1.42 million km and it takes slightly more than 29 years to complete its orbit.

With Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, Saturn is part of the gaseous giant planets which are mainly composed of hydrogen (H2: 86%) and helium (He: 14%). The mix of minor gases (ammonia, methane, phosphine, water vapor, etc.) is very similar to that found in Jupiter’s atmosphere and the cloud structure is also similar, although with a different extent in altitude. It is also believed that the core of the planet is a solid mixture of rocks and ices of a few times the mass of Earth.

Saturn is surrounded by more than 50 natural satellites, the smallest being only a few kilometres in diameter. The largest of them is Titan. It has a thick atmosphere resembling that of Earth but at a much colder temperature (-200°C to -100°C). In January 2005, the Huygens probe, built by the European Space Agency, descended into the atmosphere and landed safely on the surface after analysing the content of the atmosphere. Many of the atmospheric phenomena (hazes, fogs, clouds, rainstorms), and surface features (lakes, hills, dunes) found on Earth are also present on Titan.

Since July 2004, the Cassini spacecraft operated by NASA has been studying the Saturnian system in great details and is expected to continue its exploration until mid-2017.

[Tactile features]
[While you explore the tactile schematic image you can find:]

Surface features
Similarly to Jupiter, the atmosphere of Saturn is organized in zones and bands parallel to the equator but the contrast between these areas is much less marked. At the poles, the upper atmosphere is filled with darker particles (materialized by the thick fabric on the tactile image) produced by the interaction of the gas with energetic particles precipitated along the magnetic field lines.

An intense meteorological activity takes place in Saturn’s atmosphere. The equatorial winds are even more powerful than on Jupiter, with maximum speeds of more than 1,000 km/h. Regularly, storms appear at certain latitudes and last a few weeks. Even more powerful storms occur once every Saturnian year (or about every 30 years), spreading material from the deep atmosphere all around the planet,

The most remarkable object around Saturn is the magnificent ring system that can be observed even with a small telescope from Earth (materialized by the glued-on sand on the tactile image). This system is composed of three main rings (named A, B, and C), extending between 75,000 km and 137,000 km from the planet’s centre, as well as four other fainter rings (up to the G-ring) only visible with powerful instruments or from spacecraft orbiting Saturn. The main rings are thick enough to cast a shadow on the atmosphere beneath (materialized by the thick fabric on the tactile image). When observed up close, the rings appear made of thousands of ringlets packed together inside a ring. That is because the rings are made of millions of icy particles with sizes varying from a few centimetres to a few meters, each particle following its own orbit around Saturn, sometimes colliding or sticking with other particles, and undergoing the gravitational pull of small “shepherd” satellites inside the rings.

:: 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 09_Saturn_Image.pdf and 09_Saturn _Mold.pdf, in a regular black and white printer;

Cut the round shaped mold of the outer area of the planet;

With a pen draw the shape according to the mold drawing in the thin fabric;

Cut the light fabric and according to the mold drawing;

Place the abundant glue on top of the paper circle area;

Place the fabric on top of the glue;


Put abundant glue on the area that corresponds to the inner side of the rings and place sand on top of the glue;

Clean the excess sand from the rings;

Using the different molds cut the different sections 1;

STEP 10:
Using the molds cut the different section of fabric;

STEP 11:
Glue the different fabric on top of Image 09_Saturn_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 the Saturn’s schematic tactile image.

(1) Start exploring by identifying the different fabrics present in the tactile schematic image; (2) and ring structure represented by sand.