Bored at the Speed of Light
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A proper “to-scale” representation of the solar system is hard to make. This is because the distances within the solar system are vast, compared to the sizes of the sun and the planets, and because there is so much variation in size among the sun and the planets themselves. Thus representations of the solar system inevitably show everything too close together, and too similar in size.

But recently I was introduced to a nice online effort at a “to-scale” representation or model of the solar system — click here to have a look at it. “Thank you” to Fr. Joseph-Mary Hertzog, O.P., who introduced me to this model. The scale of this model is such that, on a modestly large screen, the moon is a single pixel in size, while the sun is roughly the size of an orange.

Click here, or click the image above, to try out the on-line model solar system. Note that the model is a good, the builder of the model has also added commentary that ranges across subjects from Shakespeare to significance to UFOs, comments which may or may not contribute to the value of the model. They do, however, add waypoints between the planets at which to stop.

Click here, or click the image above, to try out the on-line model solar system. The “light speed” button is indicated by the arrow. Note that while the model is good, the builder of the model has also added commentary that ranges across subjects from Shakespeare to significance to UFOs, comments which may or may not contribute to the value of the model. They do, however, add waypoints between the planets at which to stop.

The distances between planets is so great that an effort to manually scroll through this model from one planet to another will result in either a very long wait on one hand, or an uncontrollable careening across the solar system on the other. Note the button for traveling at the speed of light. Do you have the patience to travel the solar system at the speed of light? Set aside eight minutes to travel from the sun to the earth, an hour and a half to travel to Saturn, and several hours to make it to Neptune. Travelling through this model at the speed of light is probably going to be pretty boring.

Playing with this on-line model is a valuable exercise, because it yields a realistic view of space. At this scale — in which the moon is a pixel and the sun is an orange — the distance across the solar system is a few hundred yards. And the nearest (the nearest, mind you) star in this model is another orange, located more than one thousand miles (well more than one thousand kilometers) away. A very boring four years of scrolling at the speed of light would be required in order to reach that nearest star.

That is space: scattered oranges, separated by thousands of miles, each orange with a few minor particles hanging near it in its immediate vicinity. Just remember: we have always known, ever since we’ve had eyes and brains, that the universe is big, and that the earth is just a particle within it.

 


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