The Solar System on an Earth Scale

About the solar system as presented on an Earthly scale with distances of planets equal to distance of cities.


No schoolroom map is large enough to show on the one hand the distances from the sun to the planets and at the same time the sizes of the planets themselves. The latter would just be tiny fractions of a mark to be seen with a microscope.

To get a clearer picture, let us use the earth's whole surface as our astronomical chart, with a scale in which 1 centimeter (cm.) = 1 kilometer (km.), or 1 in. = about 1 1/2 mi., or 1:105??.

We need an airplane to travel about on this map; suppose that we set out from the southernmost point of Manhattan Island, New York, observed by the Statue of Liberty.

While still above New York City, in fact over Washington Square, we see the moon depicted about the size of our airplane (35 meters, about 100 ft. across) on the "Earth"-map; we have traveled only 3.8 km. (2.4 mi.), but this represents 380,000 km., the real distance from the earth to the moon.

Now we must fly to a point just beyond Chicago, a total of 1,500 km. (930 mi.) from our starting point, before we "pass" the sun, a gigantic globe with its diameter equal to the length--14 km. (9 mi.)--of the District of Columbia.

We will assume that on our Earth-map all the planets--including our earth--are shown along a straight line, and not in real positions in their orbits; and so en route to the sun we shall have passed Venus, 400 km. (250 mi.) from the start, and about 123 meters across (400 ft.), so about "fitting" the Hudson River at New York; and also Mercury, 900 km. (570 mi.) from the start, 50 meters (160 ft.) across, so like a large aircraft.

Now continuing from Chicago, we fly almost to San Francisco before finding Mars on our map, 3,700 km. (2,300 mi.) from the starting point. It will be, on our chosen scale, 67 meters (220 ft.) in diameter, so corresponding in size with a large supersonic "line" aircraft. [We are assuming that Mars and the outer planets are on the other side of the sun from Earth--as each of them is, from time to time.]

But after this we have a really long "hop"--for we cannot concern ourselves just now with the asteroids, the swarm of tiny planets between Mars and Jupiter--to a point well past the Hawaiian Islands, 9,000 km. (5,600 mi.) from our start at New York. Here we pass the giant planet Jupiter, with its diameter of 1,400 meters (not far short of 1 mi.).

Still another long flight is before us, for our next planet, Saturn, will be "found" well into Australia, 16,000 km. (10,000 mi.) from the start. This is also a giant; even disregarding the rings, its diameter is the equivalent of 1,150 meters on our Earth-map (about 3/4 mi.).

Continuing our westbound flight, we have still to see two more planets, about the same size, 500 meters (1,650 ft.) across, or the size of the lawns around the Pentagon Building in Washington, D.C.

The first of these, Uranus, will be found at the Congo, in Africa, 30,000 km. (18,600 mi.) from New York; but we shall have to continue around the earth and pass New York and San Francisco for a second time before we find Neptune in the neighborhood of the Hawaiian Islands, distant 47,000 km. (29,000 mi.) from the starting point.

Finally, after passing Australia for a second time, we find the last-discovered planet, Pluto. Fortunately it is shown at its mean distance from the sun; otherwise its very elliptical orbit might require us to travel much further; but our meeting has taken place 60,000 km. from the start, that is, 37,000 mi., after we have circled the earth 1 1/2 times.

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