Join 3,434 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Lovely Universe
February 12, 2005 12:28 AM   Subscribe

Six million pixels from Gracela... er, Pluto. A scale model of our solar system. It turns out, we're really, really small.
posted by panoptican (52 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Before you go clicking on the links that are so kindly provided, try finding each planet by scrolling. It'll give you a pretty good idea of how expansive this thing is.
posted by panoptican at 12:31 AM on February 12, 2005


Tried doing that, can't find one. I did find the sun, tho!
posted by slater at 12:37 AM on February 12, 2005


Wow! Talk about putting things into perspective...
posted by sour cream at 1:08 AM on February 12, 2005


Thanks, that like, killed my computer.
posted by Thoth at 1:18 AM on February 12, 2005


From the website:

(This page does not display properly in Safari and Opera; they do not support super-wide tables or images, apparently.)

Sorry Thoth. I'm assuming you're running one of those browsers. Should have forewarned the unknowing.

(And if you're not running one of those browsers, than, well, I don't know.)
posted by panoptican at 1:24 AM on February 12, 2005


Is the scale right? I thought the great red spot could fit at least 2-3 Earths in it.
posted by Jairus at 1:24 AM on February 12, 2005


Great post - fascinatin' stuff
posted by Dag Maggot at 2:17 AM on February 12, 2005


Ob "Celestia" link ...
posted by RavinDave at 2:21 AM on February 12, 2005


Is the scale right? I thought the great red spot could fit at least 2-3 Earths in it.

It purports to be to scale. I'm assuming the "Great Red Spot" is Jupiter and if that's the case, you can actually fit Earth inside of it over a thousand times. And on my screen, the pictures would seem to support that.

Jupiter vs. Earth
posted by panoptican at 2:34 AM on February 12, 2005


I found Earth okay by manually scrolling (I didn't even see the jump links in the upper right corner). But I am ashamed to admit that I was wildly off in looking for Jupiter... I was looking roughly 2/3 of the way along the bar.

[spoiler space, go look at this if you haven't already]



[spoilers!]



In actual fact, it's at about 15% of the bar. Saturn is at about 30, Uranus is just under halfway, and then Neptune and Pluto are WAY out there.

Kind of gives you a feel for why it took so long to find those last two.
posted by Malor at 2:36 AM on February 12, 2005


panoptican, the red spot is that red spot on Jupiter, about 3/4 down and a bit to the right.
posted by Jairus at 2:41 AM on February 12, 2005


Shows what I learned in that astrology class I took back in high school.

My guess would be that the size of the planets and the distance between them are to scale but the actual details of the planets aren't necessarily.
posted by panoptican at 2:44 AM on February 12, 2005


Shows what I learned in that astrology class I took back in high school.

Oh mercy.

This is extremely cool, though. Upon closer inspection, I think the scale is correct. Two earths will definitely fit in the great red spot.
posted by gramschmidt at 3:11 AM on February 12, 2005


I loved this. But, it killed my computer too. (with Firefox)
posted by recurve at 4:15 AM on February 12, 2005


I'm embarrassed to say that I always thought Mars was larger than the Earth.
posted by Plinko at 5:02 AM on February 12, 2005


Nice post.

Worked fine in Safari for me. I scrolled, though. I didn't try the links.
posted by evoo at 5:57 AM on February 12, 2005


For what it's worth, this page claims Jupiter's red spot is three times as big as the earth.
posted by pardonyou? at 5:57 AM on February 12, 2005


Planets all lined up and they're teaching astrology in high school? The end of the world is coming. But I'll go out admiring the jaunty tilt of Saturn's rings.

By the way, it worked fine with Firefox for me.
posted by pracowity at 6:01 AM on February 12, 2005


Uranus is huge!
posted by wfrgms at 6:21 AM on February 12, 2005


Jupiter's red spot is three times as big as the earth

Personal Pet Peeve: Does the linked page mean bigger by volume, surface area, diameter, what? Give me a dimension.

Very cool page. I wish it had some sort of background other than black so that the scrolling rate could be seen (other than by looking at the scroll bar). Maybe a scattering of stars?
posted by Bort at 7:01 AM on February 12, 2005


The planets are all in the same general plane, so it's not really that bad to line them all up.
posted by smackfu at 7:51 AM on February 12, 2005


It is sort of comforting to know that big ole Sol is there to keep us all secure, considering the vast well of blackness that is the rest of the Up-and-Out.
posted by sciurus at 7:52 AM on February 12, 2005


My god, it's full of stars!
posted by simra at 8:21 AM on February 12, 2005


If you want to know more about the black stuff in between, get this.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:25 AM on February 12, 2005


It doesn't really work in Safari, though it appears to. The scale (in the sense of the horizontal expanse between planets) is very compressed, making it appear as though they're not more than a few dozen diameters apart, which is far too close.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:26 AM on February 12, 2005


\
posted by CCK at 9:32 AM on February 12, 2005


Bort: I'm just guessing here, but since the spot is a plane and the Earth is a sphere, I think it means something like, "this parking lot can fit three cars."
Surface area of spot vs. projection (footprint, shadow, etc.) of Earth.

If only such a parking lot were real...
posted by hammurderer at 9:42 AM on February 12, 2005


"Does the linked page mean bigger by volume, surface area, diameter, what? Give me a dimension."

Diameter. The Great Red Spot is roughly twice as wide as the Earth, east to west (and roughly as wide north to south). Volumewise, Jupiter in total is about 1300 times as large as the Earth, and masses about 300 times as much. Masswise, Jupiter's more massive than all the other planets combined.
posted by jscalzi at 9:50 AM on February 12, 2005


I'm sure you meant astronomy class, panoptican, although that does give some idea how much you learned from it. I'm glad you remained interested enough to enjoy this link, though, and very glad you passed it on. Thanks!

It seems unreasonable for people to nitpitck about the planets being lined up in this chart. It's being done to illustrate their relative distance and size from the sun, not to reflect where they actually are at a moment in time. Of course since the planets are not in total harmonic convergence like this they are actually much farther apart from one another, periodically even on opposite sides of the sun, and a page showing their real positions to scale in this manner would also be interesting and revealing. But if you were going for that sort of depiction you'd also want to show realistic illumination of the planets (and Saturn's rings), the tilt of Pluto's orbital plane, etc.. It would be even harder to use, and even harder to find the planets.

On preview: remember that the Great Red Spot is foreshortened by its offset from the center of Jupiter's visible face. If we were viewing Jupiter from directly over the spot its true size in relation to that of the Earth would be more readily apparent.
posted by Songdog at 9:54 AM on February 12, 2005


In actual fact, it's at about 15% of the bar. Saturn is at about 30...

Except for Pluto, which is more a planet by courtesy than fact, each planet is very roughly twice as far out as the next planet in. This makes for big distances between the gas giants.

The actual relationship is called Bode's Law and adds a constant to each doubling.

Any real astro / physics people know if there's any good reason why Bode's law should hold, or if it's just happenstance?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:20 AM on February 12, 2005


It's happenstance. It fails at Neptune, for one thing (although it's Pluto that -- very roughly -- works for where Bode's Law predicts the eighth planet should be).

What would be interesting to see is how Bode's law works or doesn't for planetary systems we've observed around other stars. I suspect strongly it wouldn't, but don't have the data in front of me.

(not an astronomer or physicist, but did wrote "The Rough Guide to the Universe," a consumer book on astronomy)
posted by jscalzi at 10:28 AM on February 12, 2005


Astronomy, astrology. They both have something to do with the stars and are very much beyond my realm of comprehension. Of course, that doesn't stop me from observing their quirks with an untrained eye (and quite often confusing meanings, but that can be fun sometimes).
posted by panoptican at 10:34 AM on February 12, 2005


Astronomy is a pursuit of knowledge of the universe using scientific methods. Astrology is a form of fortune telling clothed in the trappings of science. Confusion between these is common but it tends to irritate astronomers because it reminds them how many people don't understand why one is a science and the other is not.

Astronomy: telescopes
Astrology: horoscopes

Re: Bode's law: off the top of my head I think it has to do with the distribution of planet-forming material several billion years ago, with smaller clumps of rocky material forming planets in the inner solar system and much larger clouds of gas forming planets in the outer solar system. And remember, as ROU_Xenophobe says Pluto is an exception. Although it is at the expected distance it is clearly much more like its outer neighbors the Kuiper Belt objects and the comets than it is is like its inner neighbors the gas giants.
posted by Songdog at 11:00 AM on February 12, 2005


Except that astrology has about as much to to with the stars (the ones we see twinkling up in the sky) as the Golden Globe awards.
posted by dmd at 11:03 AM on February 12, 2005


Now, that's not fair. Astrology was originally the same thing as astronomy; it/they were developed by ancient stargazers carefully tracing the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies and developing the ability to predict where they'd show up, which was genuine heavy-duty science in its day. Of course, living many millennia ago and not having the benefit of modern atheism, skepticism, and the like, they interpreted their findings in terms of The Gods, but that doesn't disqualify their observations. The two realms did not diverge until the Enlightenment, when science began ridding itself of the supernatural trappings and relying only on what could be measured and proved or disproved. People who dabble in astrology are just using the outdated science and interpretation (and star charts) of ancient Babylonia rather than modern observatories.
posted by languagehat at 11:11 AM on February 12, 2005


Astronomy, astrology. They both have something to do with the stars and are very much beyond my realm of comprehension.

Again, oh mercy. Astrology is beyond the realm of any comprehension, since it is based upon nothing empirical, does not outline any method of arriving at fact, and can provide no information beyond perhaps someone's phone number at a bar. Astronomy being beyond someone's realm of comprehension is indicative of nothing more than a lack of astronomy education.

Comparing astronomy with astrology is like comparing a cesium atom clock with a broken sundial in a cave.
posted by gramschmidt at 11:18 AM on February 12, 2005


Come on now, I obviously realize that astrology and astronomy are two completely different disciplines. My observation was a sarcastic one meant to highlight my silly mistake. That I originally typed astrology has more to do with the fact that I wasn't paying attention than it does anything else.

Just had to make that clear.
posted by panoptican at 11:20 AM on February 12, 2005


Ah-ha. Sometimes my irony meter breaks.

[This is still a cool link.]
posted by gramschmidt at 11:24 AM on February 12, 2005


Oh, I know all about that.

Sometimes, my "ability to be clear" meter breaks and people start thinking I'm saying one thing when I mean something different all together.

But yeah, the link, the focus of this post, it is cool and that's really what matters.
posted by panoptican at 11:27 AM on February 12, 2005


Oh mercy.

Ah-ha. Sometimes my irony meter breaks.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:40 AM on February 12, 2005


To help with the sense of scale, Build A Solar System helps put the distances and sizes in perspective.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:44 AM on February 12, 2005


Barbers used to practice "medicine" too, languagehat. Doesn't make them doctors. I'm glad someone spoke out on the very large differences between science and bullshit, i.e., astronomy and astrology.

Funny how this stuff seems to all happen at once. Just this week, while I was working a club drive at school and attempting to start an astronomy club I see they started publishing a monthly horoscope in my college paper.
posted by AstroGuy at 1:28 PM on February 12, 2005


I wasn't ranting at you, panoptican. I was ranting at the world.

And hey, languagehat, I know a lot of knowledge came from the work of astrologers, alchemists, barbers, and so forth before anything approaching the modern practice of science was codified. Excellent observations of the heavens, the natural world around us, and our very bodies were made for purposes that might not qualify as scientific. I am even prepared to concede that there might be validity to some of the unproven postulates of these prescientific fields, but as gramschmidt aptly put it their research in generally did not follow an outlined method of arriving at facts, or at least of testing, refuting, or improving their theories. It need not diminish the hard work of those who studied astrology, for example, to demand that people endorsing the conclusions of astrology in our own time should follow established and successful methods of demonstrating the validity of these conclusions.

Furthermore I would assert that when in the pursuit of astrology a scholar gained valuable empirical knowledge what they were actually practicing was the study of astronomy. They were just practicing it for a different reason.
posted by Songdog at 1:33 PM on February 12, 2005


Barbers used to practice "medicine" too, languagehat. Doesn't make them doctors

Gee, thanks for enlightening me! Because obviously what I was trying to say, in my clumsy way, was that astronomy and astrology are exactly the same and everyone should treat them as such.

I guess I should have prefaced my remarks by quoting the dmd comment I was responding to, even though it was right above:
Except that astrology has about as much to to with the stars (the ones we see twinkling up in the sky) as the Golden Globe awards.
That's a ridiculous overstatement, and I was correcting it. Excuse me for not following the approved Thread Party Line.
*lashes self with rolled up star chart, renounces Forbidden Thought*
posted by languagehat at 1:39 PM on February 12, 2005


My very excellent mother just sent us new pages
...cool post man. Just trying to get into the spirit here.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:07 PM on February 12, 2005


Any real astro / physics people know if there's any good reason why Bode's law should hold, or if it's just happenstance?

What I love about Bode's law is that it cannot be shown why it has worked but also there is not enough of a case to dismiss it either. So, it ends up being an article of faith for now.

Also, Bode's law was postulated before some of the outer planets were discovered. When they were, they continued to fit Bode's law so it passed that first obstacle of scientific theories - its should not just fit the existing data but also make predictions,

Some astronomers dismiss it as a grand coincidence. Others feel theres some deeper orbital resonance effects that we just haven't formulated a theory for - a simple consequence of some underlying complex effects.

Also, I dont have a reference handy but I seemed to remember that some of the discovered planets around other systems seemed to also obey Bode's Law.
posted by vacapinta at 2:45 PM on February 12, 2005


This is still underestimating it, no Sedna and where's the Öort Cloud? Now *that* would take a lot of scrolling. Its "centre" is around 100K AU, about 1LY out.

Öort Cloud Scale
posted by meehawl at 3:12 PM on February 12, 2005


We did something like this in middle school - the sun was in our classroom, the inner planets marked out on the walls of the school. Pluto ended up being an orange in a 7-11 parking lot blocks away. Awesome then, awesome now.
posted by selfmedicating at 3:53 PM on February 12, 2005


Where would you put Sedna, meehawl? That's an awfully eccentric orbit.
posted by Songdog at 4:54 PM on February 12, 2005


Worth noting: Peoria, Illinois is home to the World's Largest Model Solar System. Neptune is housed at a Chrysler dealer on the outskirts of town.
posted by dhartung at 8:55 PM on February 12, 2005



A (maybe) nicer scaled 3d model can be found at the Cosmus site. It has Sol and nine planets inside each other like Russian Dolls.

An excellent Solar System Simulator is the eponymous one by Toshiyuki Takahei. It allows you to record and replay flypaths through the Solar System, and has been used on the floor at some Japanese science museums.
posted by buymespresso at 11:43 AM on February 13, 2005


There is also a scale model of the solar system laid out on the National Mall in DC. (Last link PDF).
posted by grateful at 7:21 AM on February 14, 2005


« Older Drug-resistant HIV strain alarms officials...  |  My Armoury -... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments