Saturday, June 25, 2022

The mass and size scale of the solar system

The distances in astronomy are so great that the human mind often fails to realize them. To make them more familiar let's imagine the Sun as a sphere with a diameter of 10 cm. In this our vision of the Solar System on a scale of 1: the Earth would be a tiny sphere with a diameter of 1 mm 10 meters away from the Sun. The Moon, even smaller than the Earth, would be instead 2.5 cm away from our planet.

Jupiter, the giant of the Solar System, would instead be a sphere with a diameter of only 1 cm 50 meters away from the Sun.

The farthest planet, Neptune, would be 300 meters away from our star.

But let us now move away from the Solar System and look at the position of the closest stars. Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, 4.2 light years away, would be in our model 2650 km from us. Sirius, the brightest star of the sky, 8.6 light-years away, would instead be 5400 km away.

Finally, imagine that our model of the Solar System is in the Canary Islands: then Proxima Centauri would be near London, while Sirius would be on the other side of the Ocean, in Cuba!

Credit: NASA, JPL, JHUAPL, CIW, the Planetary Society

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