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Need an analogy...

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...for the planets orbiting the sun.  At first I used horses on a merry-go-round, but one reader was confused because the horses also go up and down.  Then I thought of cars on a race track, but my husband says that doesn't work because the race track isn't really circular.

Any other ideas?  Thanks!
#1 - September 11, 2011, 12:58 PM
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Tell your husband that neither are the orbits of planets.  :-) They are elliptical.

eab
#2 - September 11, 2011, 02:06 PM

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Would electrons orbiting the nucleus of an atom be too complicated of an analogy? (Also elliptical orbits, I think?)I don't know what the context is here, but would it work to describe a child twirling with a ball on a string that goes around her like a planet around the sun? Probably not so good, either, but maybe it will give you an idea.
#3 - September 11, 2011, 02:13 PM

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If it's the right kind of story, you could get some humor out of people trying and failing miserably to come up with an analogy.

rab, you totally need to review electrons. Not even close.
#4 - September 11, 2011, 02:18 PM

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Really, Jeff? I know I'm an idiot, but I did look up the picture of an atom in the American Heritage Dictionary, and there are these protons and electrons going round and round the nucleus. Are you telling me I need a new dictionary?
#5 - September 11, 2011, 02:31 PM

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Rab--I need something along the lines of merry-go-round, a simple everyday object.  Probably not a good idea to use a more complicated analogy.  And electrons don't really "go around" anything, in spite of what the dictionary says.  (It's much weirder than that--electrons don't actually have a position until measured.)

AB--My husband took physics from Richard Feynman, so I'm guessing he knows that.  Anyway, the orbits of the planets are only slightly elliptical.  

But there must be something.
#6 - September 11, 2011, 02:32 PM
« Last Edit: September 11, 2011, 02:33 PM by Betsy »
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Could you use an archery target, with all those rings around the bull's eye? (This will be my last attempt at this analogy, because of the risk of embarrassing myself even further. Besides, I'm just avoiding class preparation for tomorrow.)
#7 - September 11, 2011, 02:35 PM

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Hey rab, please don't be embarrassed!  I really, REALLY appreciate your help.  It's only natural that you'd think that about electrons because that's based on a diagram you frequently see.  Obviously even the dictionary people got it wrong.

If you're interested, here's the real situation:

http://www.jimloy.com/physics/electron.htm

#8 - September 11, 2011, 02:39 PM
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If not a carousel, what about another theme park ride, like those swings that hang from chains and spin around the pole in the center, or the Tea Cups at Disney which spin around the center but also each can spin themselves like planets. (sort of, lol.) also, a ferris wheel, although it's vertical, so probably not what you're looking for.
#9 - September 11, 2011, 03:02 PM
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Omigosh, those teacups!  I lost my lunch after a session with those teacups when I was about 11.  But I'm not sure kids all over the U.S. would have had that experience (and also kids in Canada or Europe).  Also, I seem to remember that they don't actually go around a common center.  Don't they whip you across every once in awhile?

Thanks Valerie!
#10 - September 11, 2011, 03:07 PM
« Last Edit: September 11, 2011, 03:10 PM by Betsy »
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What about a bunch of pets leashed to a single pole? Each leash is a different length, just as the planets are at different distances from the sun. Each pet is a different size...

#11 - September 11, 2011, 03:13 PM
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How about bees around a hive?
#12 - September 11, 2011, 03:33 PM

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I think the objection to race cars/tracks is specious, so I was going to suggest racers at a track meet (or running around the gym, which is somewhat rounder), because:

1. A lot of kids have visceral experience with the idea that the kid on the outside lane goes the farthest, and with the outward inertia
2. It's intuititive that some are going faster than others.

But I'll keep thinking! :)
#13 - September 11, 2011, 03:39 PM
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The first thing that comes to mind is a poi ball, but most folks probably don't know what they are. Maybe a cowboy swinging a lasso? I realize it's a length of rope carving a circle through space, but just thought I'd throw that out there.
#14 - September 11, 2011, 03:41 PM
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Satellites around the earth? I guess that's too similar to even qualify as an analogy.

Hoola hoops around a body?

Tetherball around a post? (Do kids still play tetherball?)

Food on a lazy susan? (I guess not enough kids will know what a lazy susan is)

The more I think, the more I think your merry-go-round analogy might be the best! Tough luck for the up and down person... ;)
#15 - September 11, 2011, 03:42 PM
« Last Edit: September 11, 2011, 03:49 PM by Joni »
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Sorry, rab, if that came off snarky. I keep forgetting no one here knows me yet. Here's an even better illustration of one kind of electron orbital. This one is more complete, but you have to squint your eyes to picture all the orbitals in 3-D.
#16 - September 11, 2011, 03:49 PM

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I thought of tetherball too!  But I don't know if kids still play it or not. :biggrin:  My 8 yo son knows, but we don't have one and I've never seen one anywhere I've taken him!

Go-kart races?

Salad spinner?

The outer edges of a pinwheel?  Or a similar glow-in-the-dark contraption kids get at fairs/festivals/etc.?

Sorry -- just a few off the top of my head while I wrangle kids for bedtime....
#17 - September 11, 2011, 03:58 PM

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Honestly, I'm so out of it these days.  Excuse me for asking a dumb question, but do kids still do go-kart racing?
#18 - September 11, 2011, 04:13 PM
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LOL, Besty, I thought of it just because one of my son's friends mentioned today that that's what they'd be doing at his upcoming b-day party!  There are a few courses around here -- for kids and grownups too! Who knew??   But, there is also the video game connection -- Mario Kart for DS and Wii (and others, I presume) are popular games with the 8-and-under set...
#19 - September 11, 2011, 04:55 PM

All I can say, Ellen, is that you have one PICKY reader. <ducking and running>  ;-)

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#20 - September 11, 2011, 04:59 PM
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what about a maypole? similar to a tetherball, but you can have the right number of kids holding ribbons? only, I guess the orbits would shorten as the kids go around...  :shame

dude...this is hard.





#21 - September 11, 2011, 06:24 PM
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You better run, Katy, or I'll pelt you with a snowball!

(It wasn't just you.)

Thanks everyone.  What a variety of responses!  I really appreciate it--and I think there are some that might work in this list.
#22 - September 11, 2011, 06:31 PM
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How about the hands around a clock?
#23 - September 11, 2011, 07:06 PM
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What about a roller coaster ?

#24 - September 11, 2011, 07:23 PM

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I was thinking of an old fashioned record being played. The sun would be the spindle in the center and the planets would be placed a different distances on the record going out towards the rim. Of course, children today aren't going to know what a record is, but would the same idea work with a CD or a DVD? If they could imagine a very large CD with the sun in the middle and planets orbiting father out, it might work.

Laurel
#25 - September 11, 2011, 07:48 PM

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How about a reference to celestial spheres?
#26 - September 11, 2011, 09:31 PM

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Why not just say something like "The planets orbit the sun like balls being swung around on the end of a string/rope"?
#27 - September 11, 2011, 09:34 PM

Actually, I meant that the racetrack analogy was good enough.  :yup No analogy is going to be perfect. BUT a racetrack has different bodies in different lanes (orbits) traveling different distances around the center.  I'd just say 'imagine the planets on a racetrack around the sun. Some run faster and some run slower. Some have further to go to make it all the way around.'

eab
#28 - September 11, 2011, 09:41 PM

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I'm with Kersten (ie, racetrack is probably your best bet). Since the entire *point* of an analogy is to make something hard-to-understand more approachable by comparison to something familiar (or, in the case of literary analogies, to spark insight through fresh and unique comparisons), it's essential that the analogy be simple, clear, familiar, and easily pictured. "Only slightly elliptical" is still elliptical, and a racetrack is something kids all over will be familiar with. You don't want something so tortured you actually make the analogy MORE difficult than the thing you're describing.

And for whatever it's worth, to me there's a difference between a playground merry-go-round, and a carousel at an amusement park... and if you give the context (playground), kids will know which one you mean.
#29 - September 12, 2011, 12:07 PM

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How about musical chairs? It has multiple bodies orbiting a fixed center.

#30 - September 12, 2011, 01:13 PM

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