I’d like to take a moment to mention scale. See that NASA approved map of our solar system? Lots of kids buy that at NASA in Florida, Alabama, Houston, and hang it on their wall.
Now you and I know it’s not to scale. Hell, we ALL know it’s not to scale. But damn, how many people appreciate just how far off the chart this map really is?
Wildly Inaccurate doesn’t begin to describe it.
By scale I mean, in this case, sizes and distance. People see posters of our solar system like the NASA approved one above and may read the fine print that accurately tells them the sizes and distances, but they still don’t have a clear frame of reference.
You tell them of the miles each planet is from the sun and they nod. Then you later find out they didn’t really Get It. Then they go off and make “intelligent” movies like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, where movie critics say, “Gosh! That’s smart science fiction!”
NO! No it is not.On that NASA approved poster, the visual scale of both planet size and distance is so grossly exaggerated to an astronomical scale that most folks don’t understand just HOW horribly exaggerated it really is.
The mistakes of distance and scale of our solar system, even to people who write Science Fiction, dominate literature and cinema.
So I want to talk scale in regards to size and distance. Planet sizes in the following images are rounded up to the nearest pixel.DISTANCE-
I’m talking approximate distance, averaged out, since the planets (except for Mercury) are on a long elliptical, not basically circular, orbits around Sol (even our moon travels an elliptical orbit around earth). Also, some orbits are more elongated than others.
Earth is approx. 98 million miles from the sun. 98 Million Freaking Miles. If you could launch from the surface of the sun and were traveling as fast as the International Space Station, 5 miles a second or 17,150 miles an hour, it would take you the better part of a year, a little over 238 days or approximately 7 months, to reach the earth. That 98 million miles from Sol puts us around 30,760,000 miles from Venus and 43,100,000 miles from –
Mars, at nearly half the size of earth, is 141,100,00 miles from the sun. We’re closer to Mars than our own sun.
Jupiter at 483 million miles from Sol, and 2.5 times more massive than all of our other planets combined, is about 4 times farther from earth – 385 million miles – than we are from the Sun, and close to three times farther from Mars than Mars is from the sun.
Okay, so now we’re in the realm of Jovian planets, and this bears repeating: all solar system maps I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen plenty – are visually inaccurate to a fantastic degree. They all give the proper numbers in distance, but we should really understand the distances here.
Saturn, Jupiter’s closest Jovian neighbor, is slightly more than half the size of Jupiter (not counting rings, of course) and over 888 million miles from the sun.
The distance I’m talking here means that Jupiter is closer to earth (385 million miles) than it is to Saturn (405 million miles).
Next is Uranus, which is 1.784 billion miles from Sol, making it farther from Saturn (896 million miles), than Saturn is from the sun.
Let me repeat and bold a few things here.
Saturn is about 888 million miles from the sun and Uranus is 896 million miles from Saturn.
Not only is Jupiter closer to earth than it is to Saturn, even Saturn is closer to the sun than Uranus is to Saturn.
You’ve likely read or heard that planets Mercury through Mars are the “inner” planets. That’s true enough but now we clearly understand “inner planets” doesn’t visually paint the whole picture in context, when far flung Saturn is closer to Sol than the very next planet beyond it – Uranus.
It took the straight shot of the Voyager crafts (1 & 2) about 1 year and 3 months to reach Saturn. They reached a maximum traveling velocity of approximately 38,000 miles an hour, they flew 24/7 non-stop, that entire time, and it took a year and three months.
Finally there is Neptune, which is 2.795 billion miles from the sun. Making Neptune farther from it’s closest Jovian neighbor, Uranus, than Uranus is from Saturn which, again, is closer to the sun than it is to Uranus.
The relative distances between all of the planets of Mercury through Saturn, can fit with plenty of room to spare between the orbits of Uranus and Neptune.
To put that another way, if Uranus was the sun, Neptune would be farther from Uranus/sun (over 1 billion miles) than Saturn actually is from Sol.
Those poster maps of our solar system aren’t even close!
TAKE A TRIP!
How long would it take you to reach Pluto if you could travel twice the speed of light?
Find out at Josh Worth’s award winning webpage,
There are many known planets beyond our solar system, xkcd offers their relative sizes compared to our own.
All space images from NASA archives, used in accordance with NASA’s Media Usage Guidelines.
The Day The Earth Stood Still, 20th Century Fox.
Pandorum, Constantin Film and Impact Pictures
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