You’ve probably seen an orrery before, though you may not recognize the name. An orrery, or mechanical model of the solar system, or sometimes just the Earth, moon, and sun, is a common image in popular culture to show that sciency things are happening. Remember the giant mechanical thing from Aughra’s lair in The Dark Crystal? That’s an orrery.

They may seem unfathomably complex, but luckily people have figured out all the gear ratios and published easily reproducible versions on the internet. Pick what material you want to work with, and someone has you covered.
1. METAL

 

Do you have the chops to grind and polish your own brass mechanisms? This might be the one you’re after. This blog details all aspects of creating a truly gorgeous orrery with materials such as brass, aluminum, and glass.

2. 3D PRINTING

Fire up your printer — this solar system model by WidgetWizard on Instructables is fully geared for 8 planets plus the moon orbiting the Earth. While this is mostly 3D printed, there is a considerable amount of work that needs to be done to fully assemble it.

3. PAPER/FOAM

Oh yes, we remembered you folks out there who don’t have a workshop, fancy tools, or tons of time and money. You can download this template and cut foam and paper to create the “wizard’s orrery” in an afternoon. Complex geared systems don’t have to be a huge undertaking when wonderful people share detailed plans like this.

4. LEGO

 

Jason Allemann has put together a full breakdown of how to build your own sun/moon/Earth orrery from the simple, ubiquitous blocks. It can be either hand cranked or motorized and takes less than 500 parts combining standard Lego and Technic.

5. PLYWOOD

Marbles, plywood, and brass comprise this solar system model. Matthew Strausser fabricated this system using a CNC router, though you could print out the patterns and cut them using a band saw or scroll saw. Though he doesn’t include downloadable patterns, he does explain what he based his on, and describes the math needed to create your own, in detail.