Astronomical Free Fire Zone

Our news sweeps have turned up nothing worth blogging about. The creationists seem to be in hibernation. No problem, we can always think of something to say — even if it’s a bit off topic.

That graphic above this post is typical of the illustrations we’ve all seen in our textbooks. But did you know that you have never seen an illustration of the Solar System drawn to scale?

We’ll ignore the obvious fact that the Sun is so much larger than any of the planets. Using very approximate figures, the sun is about 860,000 miles in diameter, which is more than 100 times larger than the Earth. That can’t be accurately shown in a simple diagram, so we’ll have to forget about the relative sizes of the Sun and the planets. Instead, let’s talk about the distances of the planets from the Sun.

The Earth, as every school child learns (in the non-metric US), is 93 million miles from the Sun — one Astronomical Unit (or AU). That means the Earth is over 100 times as far from the Sun as the Sun’s diameter. For convenience, shrink the Sun to a one-inch circle. Earth would be 100 inches away from the Sun — over 2.5 meters. No graphic in a school book can show that to scale.

Okay, let’s scale that down by a factor of ten. Now Earth is only 10 inches from the Sun. That’s nice, but Mars is over 1.5 AUs from the Sun — 15 inches in our textbook drawing. Jupiter is more than five AUs from the Sun, which is 50 inches in our severely scaled-down drawing. Saturn is almost 10 AUs away — that’s 100 inches, and once again our graphic is over 2.5 meters wide, with more planets still to go. Uranus is nearly 20 AUs from the Sun, Neptune is 30 AUs away, and Pluto is 40 — that would be 400 inches from the Sun, more than 33 feet, or more than 10 meters for our non-US readers. (All figures are approximate.)

Scale it down some more — by yet another factor of ten. Earth is now a tiny dot only one inch from the Sun, while Pluto is 40 inches away, and your drawing is over a meter wide. How can those distances be shown on one page — or even a two-page spread? It can’t be done, which is why you’ve never seen an accurate drawing of the Solar System.

While you’re pondering that, we now declare this to be an Intellectual Free Fire Zone. We’re open for the discussion of pretty much anything — science, politics, economics, whatever — as long as it’s tasteful and interesting. Banter, babble, bicker, bluster, blubber, blather, blab, blurt, burble, boast — say what you will. But avoid flame-wars and beware of the profanity filters.

The comments are open, dear reader. Have at it!

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Astronomical Free Fire Zone

  1. 18 months on, and I am still deeply mourning the departure of Casey Luskin from the DiscoTute.

    And now–horror of horrors!–comes the news that the redoubtable Sean Spicer is abandoning the White House.


    How much comedy gold can we afford to lose?

  2. You can’t find one that shows them to scale within their orbits, for the reasons you mention, but there are several that do show the planets to scale and, well, as much of the sun as they can fit:×36-Poster-Solar-System-Planets/dp/B00M8V8952

  3. There’s also the rather fabulous If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel.

  4. dweller42, that’s excellent!

  5. Sunny the Soccer Cat continues his athletic career. I only hope they don’t test him for catnip use.

  6. Voyager 1 is now about 139 AU from the Sun.
    Proxima Centauri about 266,000 AU.
    The planets are mostly in the same plane, so we don’t have to be too concerned about the 3rd dimension. But comets are scattered all over the place.

  7. Eric Lipps

    Creationist reasoning: If you can’t show us an accurate drawing of the solar drawing, to scale, then astronomers are wrong, the earth is at the center of the universe and the stars and planets are really just “lesser lights” in the firmament, just as it says in Genesis.

  8. I am very supportive of Spicer finding an appropriate job in either the home cleaning or food service industries. As a reserve naval officer and a representative of the United States of America, he’s a washout. The book is going to be just as bad as he was. Thanks Melissa for doing the obvious. It was superb theater.

  9. Thanks Eric. I think I get it now. Which also explains why the bacteria, algae, stromatolites and single cell organisms show up at the bottom of the stratigraphic column. They settled to the bottom first faster because they were smaller and the dinosaurs and bivalves were all thrashing around together up above them in the waves. Hey this is fun !

  10. TomS
    I think Star Trek 1 established convincingly that Voyager 1 is correctly referred to as “V-ger”.
    Unless you want you want to be known as a Solar Systemist.

  11. Och Will, beware of what you mock. “All thrashing around together up above them” is what they claim here.

    “De dino’s waren op de vlucht voor het opkomende water, hun sporen werden snel afgedekt door nieuwe sedimentlagen en konden zo fossiliseren.”
    “The dinos were on the run for the flooding water, their traces were quickly covered by new layers of sediment and could fossilize that way.”

    That creacrap site did present this cute video of Pluto:

  12. Whatever reason they have for the order of the fossils being deposited by the Flood, that is an example of an order being generated contrary to the creationists’ 2nd law of thermodynamics”.

  13. We have a popular activity for elementary school kids on field trips to our museum. We have a space that is 100 ft. long, and we put up an image of the sun at one end and Neptune at the other. We then hand out a picture of each planet to the kids (they divide into groups). We give them some time to think about where their group’s planet would fit between the Sun and Neptune. After 4-5 minutes, starting with Mercury, we have the group with the Mercury picture place it where they think Mercury would be on that scale. Needless to say, they always place it further from the sun than it should be. We show them where it should go, on that scale, explain why, and then ask for the group with Venus to place their picture. Same thing will happen – they will put it further from the sun. This goes on until Jupiter, which is usually too close, and so on. Even parents and teachers are often surprised at the real scale of the solar system. It’s a simple, fun way to illustrate the concept.

    If “Planet 9” is ever confirmed, we’ll have to come up with a new scale.

  14. Staying with the original scale I started with, where the sun is one inch in diameter and the Earth is a tiny dot orbiting 100 inches away, Pluto (40 AUs from the Sun) would be 4,000 inches from the Sun. That’s 333 feet, or 101 meters — way outside of the building. Probably across the street on the next block.

  15. At my church, I teach high school Sunday School and did an exercise showing astronomical distances using a roll of toilet paper. With one sheet of toilet paper representing the distance from the sun to Mercury, we still had to do the exercise outside because the gymnasium wasn’t big enough.

  16. If one remembers Bode’s Law, then one would guess the ratios are about a factor of 2 for the outer planets. There are complications, but it would be better than just guessing.

  17. SC, a small edit is needed in paragraph four, unless the Earth is undergoing some sort of out-of-body experience:

    “The Earth, as every school child learns (in the non-metric US), is 93 million miles from Earth…”

    Excellent solar system explanation, by the way. When I was teaching Jr. High Science, my classroom had a blackboard that spanned the entire width of the front wall, making it great for such things as geologic time scales, Solar System scale diagrams, etc. For the Solar System, I had a white marble about 1/2 inch diameter for the Sun that established scale, which made Earth a speck of dust and Jupiter a BB at the other end of the board. The students enjoyed the opportunity to get out of the classroom to model the rest of the Solar System, which at the time I taught still included Pluto — a couple of blocks away. They had a hard time wrapping the minds around the idea that the closest star to the Sun was another marble at the other end of the state, about 300 miles away, if I remember the scale correctly.

  18. One thing that amazes me is that people can find such small things in that empty space. How did Clyde Tombaugh find Pluto? And how can people guide rockets to those tiny targets?

  19. retiredsciguy tactfully says: “SC, a small edit is needed in paragraph four …”

    *Sigh* The math in that post can be done by any kid in the 6th grade, yet I was worried that I’d make some silly computational error. Instead, well … thanks for pointing that out.