DIY planet ornaments

This Christmas season I’ve really been going all out on the nerdy DIY Christmas ornaments (Tetris ornaments, Ninja Turtle ornaments, and Pokéball wreath). One final project for the season: planet ornaments.

I’ve always been in love with space, and the planets fascinate me to no end. Last Christmas season, I searched online for planet ornaments–assuming such things must exist–and the top result that consistently came back was this glass-blown set of planets and the sun. Pretty sweet ornaments. The price tag of $395, though, was a bit out of my range!

So I looked into planet diagram sets instead, thinking they could be modified into ornaments. I found that a lot of them just come with blank balls that you have to paint yourself, so I figured: why paint some cheapo plastic balls to look like the planets when I can use real ornaments?

The Process

First I gathered some Christmas balls left over from my other projects. Keeping the planets in scale is practically impossible, but I managed to find bigger balls for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and small balls for the other planets (and dwarf planet Pluto).

Using acrylic paints, I started with several base coats for each planet, followed by more detailed paint. I hung the planets from my fan, as I didn’t want to set wet spherical objects down on the table to dry, which would leave a mark where the ball touched the table.

Making planet ornaments

After painting them, I coated them with a thick, shiny glaze.

Making planet ornaments

For reference, I used an astronomy book. I don’t think my colors are entirely accurate, but I did the best I could. Turns out painting on a slippery, spherical surface is a lot harder than I thought!

Making planet ornaments.

The Inner Planets

Mercury Ornament

Mercury. The dappled black represents the rocky, cratered surface.

Venus Ornament

Venus, Earth’s twin sister.

Earth Ornament

Earth. In retrospect, I would probably add a layer of clouds on top of the continents.

Mars Ornament

Mars, the God of War.

The Outer Planets

Jupiter Ornament

Jupiter. It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but the Great Red Spot is there!

Uranus Ornament

Uranus, God of the Sky.

Neptune Ornament

Nepture, God of the Sea.

Pluto Ornament

Pluto, the dwarf planet. In the future, I might make the other dwarf planets, like Eris and Ceres. Pluto was a challenge, as no decent resolution photo exists, making the color hard to figure out. I made Pluto gray with a sheen of blue. This summer, the New Horizons probe will orbit Pluto, so hopefully we get a better sense of its color then!

Saturn

No, I didn’t forget about Saturn! This was the toughest ornament to construct due to the rings. I pondered this for a couple months, trying to figure out the best way to make the rings. Here’s what I came up with. I’m not entirely happy with the construction (or the paint job), but it’s serviceable.

I cut bass wood into two curved pieces and glued them together with wood glue. The wood is 1/8″ thick. I could’ve used thinner wood, but I was afraid it wouldn’t be as durable. As soon as I applied the paint (this is the top layer), the wood started warping!

Making Saturn ornament.

Fortunately, once I applied the bottom layer of paint (not as detailed), the wood warped back into place, straightening out. What a relief!

Making Saturn ornament.

The challenge was now attaching the rings. I made two little tabs out of leftover bass wood and glued them to the side.

Making Saturn ornament.

Top view of the ornament plus tabs.

Making Saturn ornament.

The rings sitting on the tabs. There is a slight gap between the rings and the planet’s surface, just like there should be.

Making Saturn ornament.

Top view of the ornament plus tabs.

Making Saturn ornament.

The completed Saturn ornament!

Saturn Ornament.

Saturn seen from the side.

Saturn Ornament.

Saturn from underneath.

Saturn Ornament.

The Completed Planets

Here’s the entire arrangement of planets, showing you the relative size of each.

Planet Ornaments.

I’m pleased with the final result, though I can honestly say this was the least fun Christmas project I’ve completed so far! The painting was much more challenging than I anticipated, but I’m happy with the result.

In the future, I may paint some exoplanets as well. Even though our telescopes don’t have any detailed photos of what these planets look like, artists have come up with some pretty stellar renditions, based on the probable chemical and physical makeup of these planets.

~Dennis

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