June 14, 2004

Perspective (updated)

Our relative insignificance commonly escapes us. If we reduce the universe to a scale on which we can conceive it, that on which the Earth should be represented by a good-sized pea, with a grain of mustard seed, the Moon, circling about it at a distance of seven inches, the Sun would be a globe two feet in diameter, two hundred and fifteen feet away. Mars, a much smaller pea, would circle around the two-foot globe three hundred and fifty feet from its surface; Jupiter, an orange, at a distance of a quarter of a mile; Saturn, a small orange, at two fifths of a mile; and Uranus and Neptune, good-sized plums, three quarters of a mile and a mile and a quarter away, respectively. The nearest star would lie two hundred and thirty thousand miles off, or at about the actual distance of our own Moon, and the other stars at corresponding distances beyond that; that is, on a scale upon which the Moon should be but seven inches off, the nearest star would still be as far from us as the Moon is now.

Percival Lowell - Mars (1895)

Update: I'd forgotten that that on the mall in Washington DC, the Smithsonian has a physical display of this very thing. The scale is smaller:

Picture the sun as the size of a grapefruit. That would make tiny Pluto smaller than a poppy seed in the Smithsonian Institution's new scale model of the solar system.

By the same scale, the nearest star would be the size of a cherry - located across the country in California.

Stretching more than six football fields across, the Smithsonian's new model doesn't fit in any museum. So, "Voyage: A Journey Through the Solar System," will be displayed outdoors, stretching 650 yards along the museums lining the National Mall.

The exhibit - built at one ten-billionth of the solar system's full size - takes the learning experience beyond the walls of the museum, said Carolynne Harris Knox, the Smithsonian's coordinator for the project.

The sun is located beyond the east end of the National Air and Space Museum. Earth will be affixed nearby, just off the building's east corner, but starting from the castle and walking down the mall towards the Air & Space Museum, you can get a physical idea of the incredible distances involved.

Past the full length of that massive museum, past the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, past the Arts and Industries building, near the corner of the Smithsonian Castle, is Pluto.

Posted by Ted at June 14, 2004 02:07 PM
Category: Space Program

I'd use my Total Perspective Vortex to try and take all this in but someone keeps stealing the slice of faery cake!

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at June 14, 2004 05:22 PM

My favorite astronomy demonstration is called "The Earth as a peppercorn." See http://www.noao.edu/education/peppercorn/pcmain.html

Posted by: MP at June 15, 2004 08:54 PM
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