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The scale of things – our solar system

[“Communicating science” series]

This post celebrates communicating the cosmos at a scale local to the nearest star, our Sun. Our solar system.

A recent Science Alert article acclaims a science communicator and his visualization of the scale of things. In this case, the scale of planets (also Ceres, Pluto, our Moon) and the Sun.

Perhaps there’ll be an immersive holographic version.

• Science Alert > “Astronomer’s Mind-Blowing Animation Shows The True Scale of Our Solar System” by David Nield (30 April 2022)

… planetary astronomer James O’Donoghue from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) [shared] a brief animation that starts off with the Ceres dwarf planet, and moves up through Solar System objects by size (including Earth), before closing by zooming out to take in the Sun.

James O’Donoghue has previous form for this too – he’s put together plenty of other videos showing the jaw-dropping scale of the Solar System, and we’re very grateful to have them.

• YouTube > Dr James O’Donoghue > “Selected solar system objects to scale in size, rotation speed and axial tilt” (posted Oct 12, 2020)

4 thoughts on “The scale of things – our solar system

  1. And the scale of the planets from a sighting on land. Still amazing.

    • NASA > APOD > “Planets of the Solar System” (6-25-2022)

    Image Credit & Copyright: Antonio Canaveras, Chiara Tronci, Giovanni Esposito, Giuseppe Conzo, Luciana Guariglia, (Gruppo Astrofili Palidoro)

    Explanation: Simultaneous images from four cameras were combined to construct this atmospheric predawn skyscape. The cooperative astro-panorama captures all the planets of the Solar System, just before sunrise on June 24.

    That foggy morning found innermost planet Mercury close to the horizon but just visible against the twilight, below and left of brilliant Venus. Along with the waning crescent Moon, the other bright naked-eye planets, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn lie near the ecliptic, arcing up and to the right across the wide field of view. Binoculars would have been required to spot the much fainter planets Uranus and Neptune, though they also were along the ecliptic in the sky.

    In the foreground are excavations at an ancient Roman villa near Marina di San Nicola, Italy, planet Earth.

    Planets in the dusk sky

  2. Planetary trails scale a storied sky.

    • NASA > APOD > “The Solar System’s Planet Trails” (July 1, 2022) – above the Forbidden City in Beijing, China on June 24, 2022.

    The planets of the Solar System … lined up along the ecliptic and left their own trails before sunrise.

    Saturn was first to rise on that morning and the ringed planet’s trail starts close to the top right edge, almost out of the frame. Innermost planet Mercury rose only just before the Sun though. It left the shortest trail, visible against the twilight near the horizon at the far left. Uranus and Neptune are faint and hard to find, but mingled with the star trails the Solar System’s planet trails are all labeled in the scene.

    Planetary trails scale a storied sky
    Image Credit & Copyright: Zheng Zhi

  3. • NASA > APOD > (YouTube) “Planets of the Solar System: Tilts and Spins” (9-11-2022)

    Explanation: How does your favorite planet spin? Does it spin rapidly around a nearly vertical axis, or horizontally, or backwards? The featured video animates NASA images of all eight planets in our Solar System to show them spinning side-by-side for an easy comparison. In the time-lapse video, a day on Earth – one Earth rotation – takes just a few seconds. Jupiter rotates the fastest, while Venus spins not only the slowest …, but backwards. The inner rocky planets across the top underwent dramatic spin-altering collisions during the early days of the Solar System. Why planets spin and tilt as they do remains a topic of research with much insight gained from modern computer modeling and the recent discovery and analysis of hundreds of exoplanets: planets orbiting other stars.

    How does your favorite planet spin?
    Screenshot Credit: NASA, Animation: James O’Donoghue (JAXA)

  4. Protostar in L1527 nebula
    Protostar L1527, imaged by NIRCam

    A view of a solar system even before its star achieves nuclear fusion.

    • > “Webb catches fiery hourglass as new star forms” (11-16-2022)

    The protostar [only about 100,000 years old] itself is hidden from view within the ‘neck’ of this hourglass shape. An edge-on protoplanetary disc is seen as a dark line across the middle of the neck. Light from the protostar leaks above and below this disc, illuminating cavities within the surrounding gas and dust.

    The region’s most prevalent features, the blue and orange clouds, … The blue areas are where the dust is thinnest. The thicker the layer of dust, the less blue light is able to escape, creating pockets of orange. … L1527 doesn’t generate its own energy through the nuclear fusion of hydrogen yet …

    The disc, seen in the image as a dark band in front of the bright centre, is about the size of our Solar System. Given the density, it’s not unusual for much of this material to clump together – the beginnings of planets. Ultimately, this view of L1527 [~460 light-years distant in the Taurus star-forming region] provides a window onto what our Sun and Solar System looked like in their infancy.

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