Huh, your world, maybe, pathetic earthlings!
July 27, 2006 10:49 PM   Subscribe

The Size of Our World. A brief study in pictures of the relative sizes of some astronomical bodies.
posted by Eideteker (47 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
That's quite nice. Thanks.

Now, to put their geographical distances into the picture, so to speak.
posted by wilful at 10:55 PM on July 27, 2006

I've heard of a town, I don't remember where, which has a scale model of the solar system in and around it. In the center of the town there's a sun and the inner planets. To get to the outer planets you have to drive; they're along a highway.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:07 PM on July 27, 2006

Yeah, nice side-by-sides.

Now, to put their geographical distances into the picture, so to speak.

You're going to need a BIG monitor.
posted by Devils Slide at 11:09 PM on July 27, 2006

That's right here in Ithaca, StothaC DB.
posted by Eideteker at 11:10 PM on July 27, 2006

See also.
posted by Eideteker at 11:12 PM on July 27, 2006

Here are the distances, travelling 300 times the speed of light.
Here, with ordinary objects.
Here, if one pixel is a hundred million kilometers.
Thanks for the post, Eideteker.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:16 PM on July 27, 2006

Now, to put their geographical distances into the picture, so to speak.

For interstellar distances, imagine a grain of sand here on Earth, and one on the Moon. Now go farther - imagine the other grain of sand on Pluto. Keep going. And going. And going. You're a long way from home now, and we're just trying to build a crude model.

The problem with attempting to model and visualize interstellar distances is that they are so vast that attempting to create something that we can conceive and hold in our puny little minds quickly runs into problems of economy of scale. You may think it's a long way down to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts compared to space.

Conversely, using our simple rudimentary computers and a little recursive math in the form of a fractal, any armchair fractal explorer can create "objects" - or simply images - well, very small fragments of images - that would be much larger than we could see the edges of with our best telescopes from edge to edge if displayed in their entirety.
So how far can you zoom? How does 10^1600 sound--roughly 1600 decimal digits of precision. To put *this* magnification in perspective, the "tiny" ratio of 10^61 is the ratio of the entire visible universe to the smallest quantum effects. With 1600 digits to work with, you can expand an electron-sized image up to the size of the visible universe, not once but more than twenty times. So you can examine screen-sized portions of a Mandelbrot set so large all but a tiny part of it would be vastly farther away than the billion or so light year limit of our best telescopes. - from the Fractint manual page on Arbitrary Precision and Deep Zooming.
The mind boggles. Hell, it reels and gibbers on the verge of madness in the face of such vastness.

Strangely, it's these kinds of scales and manifestations of the easy complexity of math that argues strongly for the possibility we're "merely" "living" in a computer simulation. Damn, maybe God is a programmer.

What shadows? What cave? All I see is the fire, flickering bright and warm.

Keep banging those rocks together, guys!
posted by loquacious at 11:21 PM on July 27, 2006 [3 favorites]

You're going to need a BIG monitor.

Or terrifying scrollbars.
posted by tumult at 11:21 PM on July 27, 2006

Enjoyed that visual a lot Eideteker. Thanks.

Couldn't help clicking on the link at the bottom of the page. A strange perspective, the photo of the Lebanese guys watching the war from their rooftop and on tv at the same time, in light of Arcturus, Alderbaran and Betelguese.
posted by nickyskye at 11:24 PM on July 27, 2006

A lot like the "Earth is a peppercorn seventeen yards away from the beach ball" game, but less work, and you don't have to find a beach ball.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 11:27 PM on July 27, 2006

This thread is rapidly becoming a collection of some of my favorite links. Keep 'em coming!
posted by loquacious at 11:30 PM on July 27, 2006

The biggest thing in the known universe is a blob.
posted by tepidmonkey at 11:31 PM on July 27, 2006

Wow, those are some of the ugliest JPGs I've seen in a while.
posted by delmoi at 11:35 PM on July 27, 2006

Never mind the relative size of all these astronomical bodies - I am more concerned about my relative size on these planets. If I am going to engage in any space travel in the future, I would like to find the planet that puts me in the best light.

Hey, Mr. Spaceman....won't you please take me along....I won't do anything wrong ...
posted by madamjujujive at 11:45 PM on July 27, 2006

Anyone else get scared Jupiter or the Sun would roll over and make the Earth go squish? No? Just me then.
posted by Orange Goblin at 11:57 PM on July 27, 2006

The Millennium Simulation. OK, it isn't real, but the movies rock.
posted by edd at 12:11 AM on July 28, 2006

What it would like to play baseball on different planets.
posted by nickyskye at 12:20 AM on July 28, 2006

PS, mini derail: Cool Japanese YouTube video of what it would be like if a huge meteorite hit Earth.
posted by nickyskye at 12:24 AM on July 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Size means nothing. Conscious is everything.
posted by 0bvious at 12:31 AM on July 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Mars may be the Red Planet, but check out this ruddy reconstruction of Venereal vulcanism. (A shame that its roiling surface is hidden from us by thick CO₂ clouds.)

Also, how refreshing is it to see a view of Earth that isn't centered on the Western Hemisphere? Perhaps someday we'll even see one with the South Pole on top!
posted by rob511 at 12:34 AM on July 28, 2006

wow i had no idea uranus was so huge
posted by FreedomTickler at 12:51 AM on July 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Most terms in astronomy make sense and obey semantic composition.

But one term I hate is "the astronomical unit". Looking at the phrase alone it has no sense from its parts. Then when you learn that it is the mean radius of Earth's orbit around the sun, the phrases parts still have no meaning and the assigned meaning is highly egocentric. It is only good for saying things like Jupiter orbits at 5.2 AU and Pluto orbits at 39.5 AU. For comparing larger distances it looses its intuitive power.

For quantities such as body size and mass there are other possible egocentric units, but the only one that seems official is Solar Mass.

I think it would be better if people adopted systems for naming relative sizes. For example use "o'Earth" rather than Astronomical Unit. Then we would have
o'Mars = 1.52 o'Earth
o'Pluto = 39.5 o'Earth
o'Kuiper Max = 50 o'Earth
o'Ort Max = 100,000 o'Earth
o'Proxima Centauri = 268,000 o'Earth
When you ask how far Proxima Centauri is from the solar system, the o'Earth metric no longer gives a graspable distance. Better conceptions are:
o'Proxima Centauri = 6784 o'Pluto
o'Proxima Centauri = 5360 o'Kuyper Max
o'Proxima Centauri = 2.68 o'Ort Max
Similarly for other dimensions one could call the solar mass m'Solar and its diameter d'Solar.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 1:20 AM on July 28, 2006

nice one, freedomtickler. and nice nick.
posted by Hat Maui at 1:23 AM on July 28, 2006

whoa. midnight bowling.
posted by dminor at 1:54 AM on July 28, 2006

serious linkage
posted by dminor at 1:59 AM on July 28, 2006

Good use of the 'hotbodies' tag.

I also never want to visit (the vicinity of) Antares. My brain would explode.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:09 AM on July 28, 2006

Cool, thanks.

Just looking at those I started to wonder: why are all the planets spherical?
posted by TheDonF at 3:50 AM on July 28, 2006

why are all the planets spherical?
Basically, everything around the center of the planet/star is pulled inwards with equal force, resulting in a roughly spherical shape. Then the surface gets shaped by the weather and stuff.
posted by pantsrobot at 4:14 AM on July 28, 2006

@pantsrobot: thanks
@intermod: this Google thing that you speak of...
posted by TheDonF at 5:51 AM on July 28, 2006

Great post! Great additions!!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:26 AM on July 28, 2006

Betelgeuse! Betelgeuse! Betelgeuse!
posted by stevis at 7:02 AM on July 28, 2006

Thanks for the great link, Eideteker!

TheDonF writes "Just looking at those I started to wonder: why are all the planets spherical?

It has been suggested by some that a good working definition of a planet is any body primarily orbiting the sun which is massive enough that gravity gives it a roughly spherical shape. This definition would include Pluto and some of its newly discovered neighbors as planets, but would exclude [most, anyway] of the asteroids, etc.. Those pictures might also inspire one to ask why all the planets aren't spherical. Just look at Saturn, for Pete's sake. Those big gasballs are spinning fast enough to bloat around their middles. To wit:

Orange Goblin writes "Anyone else get scared Jupiter or the Sun would roll over and make the Earth go squish? No? Just me then."

Didn't you see how oblate Jupiter and Saturn are? They ain't rolling anywhere, man. The Sun? Well, yeah, that would kind of suck.
posted by Songdog at 7:24 AM on July 28, 2006


I disagree about the uselessness of the AU. It is quite useful if you're talking about distances within the solar system. When you start talking about the Oort Cloud, it gets up to the 100k's, but nothing too terrible.

When you are talking about interstellar distances, of course the AU becomes as useless as measuring the distance from my house to the grocery store in millimeters. That's why we have the parsec which does a pretty good job of measuring interstellar distances. Intergallactic distance can be measured in Mpc and Gpc.
posted by anomie at 8:22 AM on July 28, 2006

What a great site. Can't wait to show it to my kids.
posted by obol at 9:20 AM on July 28, 2006

Pfft. No one believes rense links.

Also, aren’t there rings around Uranus?
(to be renamed Urectum in 2620 in an attempt to finally stop the "your anus" jokes)
posted by Smedleyman at 9:31 AM on July 28, 2006

I've always liked the Kitt Peak/penny model of the galaxy, found here.
posted by parilous at 10:25 AM on July 28, 2006

I found this really disconcerting. I mean, I knew that there were big things out there, but there is big and then there is big. I guess I always focus on the vastness of space between objects as the impressively mind fuckingly crazy huge part of space. I never really gave much thought to the objects themselves.

That our entire solar system is probably smaller than Antares is kinda freaky.
posted by quin at 11:18 AM on July 28, 2006

Well, according to wikipedia (which is where I went after first seeing this page), Antares would encompass the average orbit of Jupiter. Which is kinda amazing in its own way. As big as all these balls are, the distances between them are far greater. Thanks to everyone who's piled on links in this thread; it's far better than padding the FPP with a google search.
posted by Eideteker at 12:11 PM on July 28, 2006

That our entire solar system is probably smaller than Antares is kinda freaky.

Yeah, I remember when I was a kid and I first learned how red giants and other massive stars would be as large or larger than the orbit of the Earth.

And then I learned that main sequence stars could "inflate" as the age, wiping planetary systems. *shudder*
posted by loquacious at 4:35 PM on July 28, 2006

so i've seen the first few of those pictures before, but they were annotated with chinese. i wonder what the original source of these pictures is?
posted by joeblough at 4:43 PM on July 28, 2006

The Smithsonian has a similar display in their Air and Space museum. It's very disconcerting to be confronted by just how vast the bodies in our solar system are, never mind those that exist outside it. Start talking about the distance involved and I get overwhelmed.

The meteor crash youtube link is insane. Lots of great links in this thread though.
posted by kosher_jenny at 8:45 PM on July 28, 2006

I just put two and two together and figured out that based on the Ithaca Planet Walk, if the sun was the size of a ping pong ball, Antares is about two and a half city blocks in diameter. No, wait: radius. Next time I'm downtown, I'll have to walk it again myself just to ponder it.
posted by Eideteker at 9:53 PM on July 28, 2006

Links Galore
posted by 0bvious at 11:58 AM on July 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

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