How big is our Solar System?
We have all heard how big the Sun is, and how big Jupiter & Saturn are, and how small Earth is compared to them. But are you really able to comprehend the immenseness of all this? Honestly, I wasn’t. When I researched more, I found myself off by a factor of 50-100 in most cases. That’s like assuming the width of USA is 30 miles (instead of it’s approximate 3000 miles).
Let us start of with our own planet. How big is that really? Easy, and most of you will have almost the right picture of its size. Most of you.
Look at the following image (click to view full size in a new window). Hurts your eyes, huh?
Imagine all the red lines (28 lines in all) being stacked end-to-end, and that being the earth’s diameter (for the academically challenged : diameter of Earth = its height or width). In the same comparison, what would be that little dot right below the lines? A man? A car? A truck? A house? That in fact, would be a comparative Empire State building! If you answered ‘man’, note that the Empire State is 264 times taller than an average human. So there, you were just off by a factor of 264!(In other words, you thought USA was 11 miles across :D)
Stats : Diameter of earth : 12,756.2 km (28,410 pixels), Height of Empire State building : 449 m (1 pixel)
Moon & Earth
Okay, let’s go a little farther off into space. How about the moon? This you must know, that the moon is 4 times smaller than the earth. Not quite hard to imagine. But can you really imagine the distance between the earth and the moon? Look at the following image of the moon revolving around earth. Notice anything wrong with that?
No, nothing wrong, except you are again off by a factor of 10! Now click on the image to open it in a new window. That is the relative distance between the moon and earth! Doesn’t the moon appear to be much closer than that?
Stats : Distance from moon to earth = 384,400 km (1200 pixels) compared to size of earth = 12,756 km (40 pixels) and size of moon = 3474 km (11 pixels)
Sun & Earth
What about the distance of the Sun from Earth? Any guesses on that one? Here, have a look.
From experience, you shall now guess correctly that this distance is too small. But by what factor? Should the Earth have been at twice the distance it’s shown in the image? Will the Sun provide enough heat then as it does? Well, cut it short and click on the above image. That’s the relative distance of the sun from earth. That one took me by surprise too! It’s amazing how much heat/light/energy the sun can provide even at this distance.
Stats : Distance from Sun to earth = 149,597,888 km (1200 pixels) compared to size of earth = 12,756 km (0.1 pixels) and size of Sun= 1,391,000 km (11 pixels)
Now, let’s have a look at our solar system. How big do you think all the planets are compared to earth? How big do you think the Sun is compared to the planets? Let’s look at this next image of the relative sizes of the Sun and the planets. Click on the image for a larger view in a new window.
This shouldn’t really be any surprise. All of us, since our school days, have looked at relative sizes of the planets and the Sun. Although, the difference in size of Jupiter and Mercury still makes me smile. But the next image will surely take you by surprise.
This following image shows the relative distances of all planets from the Sun. Click on it to view it in full size in a new window.
Remember that image above showing the distance of earth from the Sun? Look at how far away Neptune is from the Sun. It is 30 times as far from the Sun as earth is!
Stats : Size of sun = 1,391,000 km (0.3 pixel), distance of sun from Neptune = 4,503,443,661 km (1200 pixels)
It’s a pity that well educated people don’t comprehend how big these solar bodies are, and how far away they are from each other.
Not surprising though – google up ‘solar system’ images and this is what comes up! Google ‘solar system orbits’ and this is what you get! Even school textbooks (at least the one’s my school used) had pretty similar pictures of our solar system. Obviously, everyone starts assuming that this is how our solar system looks like, while it is so far from the truth.
Hope this helped you get the ‘right’ idea!