Solar System Animations

Compiled by Mark Francek (more info) at Central Michigan University (more info)

Find animations showing the phases of the moon, solar system formation, eclipses, and distance.

Click here to browse the complete set of Visualization Collections.

My Solar System (more info) Users can build their own system of heavenly bodies and watch the gravitational ballet. With this orbit simulator, users can set initial positions, velocities, and masses of 2, 3, or 4 bodies, and then see them orbit each other. The site includes ideas for using this animation in the classroom.

Lunar Phases Interactive, Prentice Hall (more info) This interactive Flash shows how the positioning of the moon, earth, and sun result in different moon phases. The date within a month and the time of day can be manipulated in order to see the resultant change in moon phase. The moon itself can even by "grabbed" with the cursor and moved to different positions in order to see resulting changes in moon phase. By following the monthly path of the moon around the earth, the meaning of such terms as "waxing gibbous" and "waning crescent" becomes more meaningful. Another advantage of the animation is the position of the student standing on top of the earth. This allows a field of view that can show why the moon and the sun can both be viewed during daylight hours. Access the animation by scrolling to the "Lunar Phases Interactive" link.

Vast Distances Between Planets in the Solar System, Exploring Earth (more info) Take this Flash animation for an imaginary trip from Mercury to Pluto to emphasize the great emptiness of space, even within our more densely packed solar system. Even at the incredible speed of this journey, some at 300 times the speed of light, there are significant wait times when traversing the outer Gaseous Giants. Note that the planets are lined up in the same direction for this animation and that this alignment is in reality a rare event. The animation can be paused and rewound to emphasize important points.

Solar Eclipses, Exploring Earth (more info) Eclipses occur when the new moon shadow passes between the Earth and the sun. Three different eclipses can be viewed on the same page, total, partial, and annular. The nature of the eclipse depends both on alignment angle and distances between the sun, earth, and moon. The animation can be paused and rewound to emphasize important points.

Impact Theory of the Moon's Formation, Exploring Earth (more info) Find a Flash animation illustrating how the moon formed after the Earth was hit by a Mars-sized object. Note the ejection of earth materials into orbit where these debris would later coalesce to form the moon. The animation only simulates the results of the collision for a twenty four hour period and does not show the eventual accretion of the moon into the solid body viewed today. The animation can be paused and rewound to emphasize important points.