A recent model shows the true scale of our solar system, bringing to light the misleading representations of our stellar neighborhood.
Well, maybe not everything. If you can name the planets in their order from the sun, you’re already off to a great start. You may have even seen visual representations of the solar system, like the one shown above. A recent video from two filmmakers reveals that this picture has actually been lying to you about the true size of the solar system for a long time. It’s actually much more massive.
We recently reported that Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh, a cameraman and producer duo took to Black Rock Desert in a vast Nevada lakebed to take on the daunting task of creating a solar system model that actually represents the relative sizes and distances of the planets as they follow their orbital paths around the sun.
In the video, featured below, the team explains that every Google search of the solar system turns up misleading images about the size and orientation of the planets. To give you a sense of how vast the space between the planets actually is, the representation for Earth in the model was a tiny marble. And the crew had to drive seven miles through the desert to get to the next planet.
The solar system contains 8 planets and multiple asteroid belts, dwarf planets, and other bodies that orbit the sun. The vast majority of the solar system’s mass is contained in the sun, at a level of nearly 99.9 percent. The rest of the mass, made up by the planets and other bodies, only accounts for 0.14 percent of the total mass.
Because the sun is so massive, it creates a depression in space-time that causes it to “sink” into its place in the galaxy. The resulting shape made from the sun creates a strong gravitational pull that keeps planets and asteroids circling around, like marbles rolling to the bottom of a conical container around the rim.
The solar system was formed roughly 4.6 billion years ago, likely caused by the collapse of a giant cloud of molecules that collected and eventually became the sun. Surrounding the sun was a flat ring of dust, which gave way to the formation of the planets and other bodies.
As we journey from the sun outward, we can begin to appreciate how truly massive the solar system actually is. There are four “inner planets,” each of which follow the sun in a tight orbital path. They are terrestrial in nature, and in our case, even host life. Their centers are largely made of iron, and their mantles are typically made of silicate-based rocks.
The first planet from the sun is Mercury, and can only be seen from Earth thirteen times every century. A year on Mercury, or the time it takes to complete one orbit of the sun, is only 88 days long. Its orbit follows an elliptical path, keeping a distance of 46 to 70 million kilometers from the sun at any given time.
Venus is the next planet in the solar system, and it is extremely hot like Mercury. It resembles Earth in size, but its thick atmosphere and high temperatures make it less than hospitable to life. It orbits the sun at a distance of roughly 108 million km.
Earth is without a doubt the most familiar place in the solar system, and it orbits the sun at a distance of roughly 150 million km.
Moving on to the last of the inner planets, Mars, things in the solar system start to look different. The sun appears smaller, and the temperature is much lower. The red planet has been the location for much of our research into space, and remains roughly 227 million km from the sun as it follows its orbital path. Already, the first four planets span a distance of over a quarter of a billion kilometers. And that’s just the beginning.
As we pass the asteroid belt and near Jupiter, the space between planets begins to increase. Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, and you’ll have to travel a whopping 778 million km just to get there.
Leaving Jupiter behind, we approach Saturn. Known for its majestic rings, Saturn is almost 1.43 billion kilometers from the sun.
Uranus is the next planet after Saturn, the third in a series of four gas giants. It orbits the sun at a distance of 2.875 billion kilometers.
Neptune also has rings, but they aren’t as big as the ones on Saturn. It doesn’t matter to Neptune, because the planet is almost 4.5 billion kilometers from the sun.
Finally, we reach the outer limits of the solar system. Pluto was demoted from planet status earlier this century to be classified as a “dwarf planet,” but for the sake of analysis we will make one last stop on our fictional journey. Pluto is so far from the sun that the distance can no longer be reasonably measured in traditional units of length. The dwarf planet exists 39.5 astronomical units from the sun, which measures out to roughly 5.9 billion kilometers.
To achieve this representation on Earth, the two filmmakers needed to do quite a bit of driving through the desert. The solar system is vast, but it is still centered around one star amongst billions upon billions of others in our galaxy and beyond.