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A Tediously Accurate Map of the Solar System

moonpixel2

I was talking about the planets with my 5-year-old daughter the other day. I was trying to explain how taking a summer vacation to Mars in the future will be a much bigger undertaking than a trip to Palm Springs (though equally as hot). I kept trying to describe the distance using metaphors like “if the earth was the size of a golf ball, then Mars would be across the soccer field” etc., but I realized I didn’t really know much about these distances, besides the fact that they were really large and hard to understand. Pictures in books, planetarium models, even telescopes are pretty misleading when it comes to judging just how big the universe can be. Are we doing ourselves a disservice by ignoring all the emptiness?

So I thought I would see if a computer screen could help make a map of a solar system that’s a bit more accurate (while teaching myself a few things about javascript, SVGs and viewports along the way).

Not that pixels are any better at representing scale than golfballs, but they’re our main way of interpreting most information these days, so why not the solar system?

Click here to visit some of the big spaces out in space!

Comments

Aaron
Reply

very nice work! but why no titan?

Dawit
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That was pretty awesome. Thank you!!!

Martin Gregory
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Absolutely loved it. Especially the speed of light!

Riccardo
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THANKS!!!
There should be a PixelMoon Fountation for the enhancement of the project, like: add right-click pop-up explanations about bodies encountered, 3d representations, meteors position (remember the ISON crazyness some time ago?), trip to the Oort cloud, and so on…

And: could there be an off-line application, to be seen without an internet connection?

Itzel López
Reply

¡Hi!
Quiero utilizar su recurso para un MOOC que desarrollará la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México acerca de Matemáticas básicas, ¿existe algún tipo de restricción para su uso?

¡Saludos!

Emily
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this ruined my night

Steve
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Fun, and a nice capture of “size.” A local school built a solar system and installed it on the bike path – the inner planets were done and gone before you got off the starting part; the last planet was10 km away !

“km” as a unit of measurement is a bit messy – perhaps using the “light second” as a basis would help connect this to the astronomical realm.
(The earth being about 500 light seconds from the sun, etc…)

Anyway, thanks

Bill Berit
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Suggest checking your Moon Pixel show, I am getting the last comment section over printed with another message.
B

Cole
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This is great. I’ve forwarded it onto my mum and my son.

Joe
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Very nice. Strikes me though a single 32 bit integer can count the km well past Uranus. So your 64 bit computer is pretty darned big on the inside too. A single word can count well more integers than the km to Pluto (we still love you!) — where would you end up in space at 2^64 km… past Alpha Centauri …

Carrie Hansen
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My significant other just said, “My right arrow is faster than the speed of light.” Just… wow. As if this project wasn’t already mind blowing.

It would be cool to see a version where holding the right arrow/scroll button makes the model move at the scale speed of light. So for instance, holding the right arrow leaving the sun, you arrive at Mercury after 3 minutes 12 seconds.

Nobody would last much past Earth, I’ll bet. Still, it would make you stop and realize the crazy scale.

Sam Benson
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This really is fantastic!

Any chance of this being open sourced on Github or the like so we can offer enhancements?

Franky
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So amazing!

tiit
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mindblow

Leonardo Molina
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No words to describe the amazing job you made here.
It really was, for me, a spiritual journey; not for religious reasons. Simply is amazing to see how big the Universe is & how much is left to discover yet.
You rock!

Jazza
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Hey Josh,
That was one long trip you took us on. I knew there was a lot of nothing out there, but you really gave me some proper perspective on the true size of things.
And I’m glad you left Pluto in – I feel like he’s still part of the family, y’know?
Thank you very much for this map. Tedious? Totally worth it!

Matt Squirrell
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I did something a whole lot like this in 2009 ( quitethehike.co.uk ), and I keep meaning to bring it up to date somehow (the design and coding are super-ropey by modern standards).

And every time I start thinking about it, someone else comes along and does it better ;-)

Peyronie Attending
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Though I once believed investing in space was like investing in our future for knowledge and expansion, eye-opening exhibits like this reinforce what I now believe— the universe is just too big for exploration. Pretty disappointed in mankind that almost 50 years from landing on the moon that are crowning space-related achievements are getting benefits from man-made satellites (ie gps), stationary telescopes (ie Hubble), and moving telescopes (probes— but I am excited about New Horizons approaching Pluto next year). Things are too far so focus in subjects that affect us more like medicine.

Fabián H. Ríos Rubino
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Great work!
I was thinking about what would be a good model to show the scale of the universe in the web just two days ago. The thought came up right after I woke up and realized that I had probably been re-living in a dream an actual day in 1985 in high school when we imagined a model. In our model, the pixel was the head of a head pin located in the middle of our school patio. For me it was an aha moment.
Thank you.

Laura Bethmann
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Loved it, Josh. Quite an abbreviated trip! Fabulous ‘billboards’ along the way. So, size is relative. And matter, just like the universe, is also incredibly ‘empty’. The following example has shown up in many places, one being on physics.org, that because of all the space inside each of our atoms, the entire human race could fit into the volume of a sugar cube. So much space Everywhere. Thanks for putting your map out in cyber space!

Paulo
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Hey man, great job. I’ve seen something similar before but it didn’t have the ruler at the bottom (the screen was full of stars which passed by instead). The ruler gives a much clearer sense of distance. Just a tip: would be better if the comments just appeared static momentarily perhaps at the top below the symbols instead of passing by. I can’t read them as it scrolls so I have to stop the scrolling to read them which kills the association between time duration of scroll and distance. Other than that, great stuff.

Vincenzo
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Really amazing!

Khrys
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Hi, can i duplicate the page to do a french translation.
I respect your work and your copyright and i will explain that is your original idea and your property.
It’s for french student who have the same problem than your daughter with the scale of the solar system.

rickl
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Outstanding job, Josh! I’m an astronomy/spaceflight buff, and since I was a child I’ve seen illustrations showing the Sun and planets to scale in size, OR showing their orbital distances to scale.

But never before now has anyone shown them to scale in both size AND distance.

Brendon
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This is great.

Adam
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This is a great applet and I sent it out to a group of middle school science teachers to (hopefully) explore with their students.
That said, I have a question, and I mean no disrespect.
Would it be much more difficult to replace the larger planets with actual images? It would be nice, after all that scrolling, to get a 2D picture of Jupiter rather than an orange circle. There’s some readily available in the wikimedia commons. I know they’re pretty big but you could shrink them with your skills.
you could set up an html/xml tag

and then set up a css selector for it that could shrink it

#jupiter {

position: absolute;
top: 0;
left: 25%;
height: 100px;
width: 100px;
margin-left: -25px;
margin-top: -25px;

–I just put in arbitrary numbers here. I can see you used XML now that I’ve looked. Anyway, thanks for the page!

Data Recovery Rotterdam
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Wow! that’s in fact just a lot of empty space, with a bit od something here and there? the sun looks pretty big to me, i didn’t understand it to be that big in comparison!

Emilio
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Excellent Work
love it

MikeS
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Seconding all the adoring comments. Can’t wait to show this to my nephews!
I scrolled all the way by hand on ipad (no automation visible, nor any scale numbers unfortunately) – and it felt like a real achievement to get to the end. Now… to clean the grease from the screen…

Duane
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Very impressive! If you’re willing to take any suggestions, I was thinking that a small window in the top, right corner (3″ X 3″ perhaps) could show the receding sun as you head toward Pluto, starting out at full size and getting proportionally smaller as would be seen by the time you get to each planet. Just a thought.

jWorth
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Like a rear-view mirror? Interesting idea.

Asa
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This is great!
I actually had a similar idea to the rearview mirror that it would be nice to keep things in a perspective view of some kind (until they would disappear anyway). What came to mind for me was putting the whole trip more on the y axis than the x axis,.. and like we’re looking through the rear window of our vehicle the whole time. Maybe a dual-viewport set of forward-looking and backward looking views would further aid perspective awareness. E.g., (backwards) The sun would always be in view. Maybe at a minimal x angle so the planets don’t overlap each other, assuming that more than one would would ever require a pixel at a time. P.S. In Firefox 29 Aurora (only browser tested), I have vertical scroll bars, in the event the fix you mentioned in a comment should already be in effect. I took the trip in 1920×1080 fullscreen.

Thanks! Will be sharing.

Daniel
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Thanks for a absolutely superb communication of an essentially incommunicable understanding. Kudos by the parsec.

Ross
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Amazing! Just when one might’ve thought “scale of the universe” visualizations were old hat, you’ve gone and created something startling and fresh. Very nice work. :D

I just wanted to point out that it’d be worth your while to fix the CSS bug that’s causing your page to scroll vertically (consistent in Chrome/FF/IE, even with the page full screened at 1920×1080). “body { overflow-y: hidden; }” would be a (hacky) one-line fix, but I believe the real problem may be your use of “vh” for div dimensions.

jWorth
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Thanks for the fix! I used the hidden y overflow option. vh seems to mean something a little different to everyone.

Pippa
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Had a singularly challenging, empty day, feeling like nothing. Scrolling all the way through this gave me perspective. And how amazing that the emptiness of space echoes the emptiness inside an atom, and actually inside our bodies, too, when you think that our atoms don’t touch. If this is the pattern, then it stands to reason that experiences of emptiness in the spirit holds significance as well. The emptiness gives weight to what IS there, making it significant. Wow.

Thank you, Josh – you sure made a difference in my day today.

And THANK YOU for adding Pluto – yes, we still love it!

World's Greatest Junkman
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Pretty cool! I liked the comments, and holding down the scroll bar makes you understand just how much space there is…really, if it automatically scrolled to the next planet, well, you might as well get a bedroom solar system mobile. The original Whole Earth Catalog had projects teachers could do to help their students understand space and the solar system; use a roll of toilet paper and mark the planets on it; find household items like grapefruit and raisins to be planets and place them in a field, or use homemade signs along a road – sometimes your solar system stretches for miles! I did a roadside one when my kids were in school learning about the solar system. Now I want to do one of an atom! Yahoo! Many thanks, this was a blast.

Lorenzo
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Hi, just wanted to thank you for this wonder. Maybe it’s silly, but if you want a spanish translation of the text, I would do it (for free of course). Maybe you could put in behind the english, I don’t know :p Really nice job. Thank you again!

jWorth
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A translation would be great! Thanks for offering. Send me an email through the contact page.

north face rea
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I ϲould not гefrain frߋm commenting. Perfectly wrіtten!

Rishabh
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Hi! Wonderful work, I really enjoyed it.

By the way, I wanted to point out that somewhere after Jupiter, you missed a word (or rather, a number) in this sentence:
“You would need of these screens lined up side-by-side to show this whole map at once.”

jWorth
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There’s a little script in there that looks at your screen size and gives you a number. Old browser maybe?

stephen pruitt
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I have a feeling you’ll be getting lots of kudos for this, since it seems to have hit facebook for real, and I just did my part by sharing and tweeting it, but before that mad rush of adoration washes over you and becomes annoyance, I just wanted to tell you that this is the best bit of web design I’ve seen in months, and the best bit of science education I’ve seen in even longer, and a lovely philosophical meditation as well. Thank you.

Mercedesz
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it’s pretty awesome! if you want to read all the comments, scrolling along the whole thing manually is a bit tiring, i agree. but i think this effort is what really makes that vast void between each two planets “tangible” — if it can be tangible at all. :) very well done!
ps: personally i like to be a speck. :)

Nadine
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I agree, it is “Tediously Accurate”, as announced, and I also felt it was better to scroll the map all the way.
Thank you, Josh, for designing this experiment, your kinetic metaphor works very well !

Negasta
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I love things like this, always gives me perspective.

I wonder how long the chart would be if printed out on paper the height of an A4 page?

jWorth
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Depends on the resolution. If it’s 300 dpi, and the sun (which is 400px on screen) is as tall as the paper, it works out to be 46,777″ wide (3,898′) or 5503 sheets of paper! That’s a lot, but doesn’t seem quite right. Someone please check my math.

Andrew
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Congratulations on a job well done! This morning, instead of ploughing through the news over breakfast, I ploughed through the solar system. As you rightly comment, the emptiness of space is boggling. Much more so, than reading coverage of the Oscars :-).
Many thanks!

Joe Babcock
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Thank you!!! This is the best example I have seen of how vast our solar system is. I understand at last. Now if I can only get my 5 year old to understand…

William Young
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Should I point out the punctuation typo at 1682194115 km? There should be an apostrophe in the ‘Let’s’ of “Lets try a few metaphors anyway”

jWorth
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Thanks for noticing. Fixed it.

AlexR
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I think this is excellent, but I also think it would be improved if the text could appear dynamically as you scroll, so it could remain stationary and readable while you continue scrolling.

AlexR
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I also want to say that it consistently scales itself to be slightly taller than the window, meaning that there’s always a tiny amount of vertical scroll.

Josh
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Hey Josh, this is incredible! I’ve been researching and illustrating the solar system as a personal project. I’m currently in tune with the vastness of space between the planets, but this visual representation blows my mind. Pretty unreal!

Josh

CKim71
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Speaking for the design side of this equation, this is an amazing infographic. Elegant, simple, snarky and interesting. Made it all the way through. I love your philosophical questions. The comment about doing a little rocket ship navigation device that slows for comments is a neat idea. Overall though, wow. Love the thinking and the execution.

Christina
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All that emptiness is calming and reassuring in some way. When petty everyday things start to annoy, remembering how tiny we are in all that vastness will help.

caitlinostberg
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I loved taking Astronomy when I was in high school and this would have been really helpful! I think you were able to capture the distance between everything fairly well. While I still can’t fathom the size of our universe (let alone the size of our Solar System) this made it a bit more understandable.

DanTheMan
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Great stuff! Now you need create another version where the Solar System is a pixel and then we will really feel very small.

The Old Man
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Wonderfully superb! Every school child should see this. As an old man, I have seen similar projects but none that so capably demonstrate the relative distances and sizes. Thank you for creating this — it shall be shared regularly. What a journey!

The Old Woman
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Indeed, very very superB

safarinz
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Well done, made it to the end and enjoyed the fun facts and philosophical comments on the way.

Anbu
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It was a great spiritual experience. Thanks for making this. Please dont ever, ever take down the page.

Many sages and siddhas have written many poems in Tamil explaining the significance of this emptiness. They claim it is the same emptiness that exists between the planets, exist between electrons of an atom.
Mother bears a child, here who is stronger and has more weight ? Mother or the child ? Obviously, the mother is stronger. And similarly this wast nothingness bears all these planets, even though it is nothing, it is much stronger and has more weight than the sum of all things in this universe.

When we swim in an ocean, the ocean holds us. Its much bigger than us. We are just traversing through it. When we stroke and advance a bit, the ocean fills the spot where we were a moment before. Its always there.

Similarly this nothingness is always there. The atoms that make the cells, cells that make the molecules, molecules that make organs, organs that make us have this nothingness within much in the same way the nothingness that exists between two planets. So by this analogy, you can safely say, the nothingness that exist between Pluto and Neptune already exist between two electron of an atom in your brain cell.

So they say, if one needs to understand the concepts of universe, one doesn’t have to look outside, one can start looking inside. Both are hard, but looking inside is a bit easier than looking outside.

jWorth
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Some beautiful, wise words. If you ever decide to start a cult, you can count me in!
Not sure if I agree that looking in is easier than looking out. If you’re looking within and you stumble on a black hole, you’ll get sucked in for real!

Kirk
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I just scrolled (and scrolled) on an iPad, and it’s just peachy. I or presume you figured out the answer to your question.

jWorth
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When you look at it on a desktop browser, there’s a distance counter near the bottom and some shortcut astronomical symbols at the top. Still can’t figure it out!

Tony
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Awesome site!
Just took a tour on our Solar System. Very tired.
But can you please add a few more features?

For starters, please add an “auto” button so one doesn’t have to keep
holding the left mouse to scroll the bar. Just click auto and let it go.

Secondly, could you add a little rocket ship at the bottom?
Like, right above the kilometer meter? It would give the representation
a nice touch I think. Also animate it with the little flame behind the rocket and stuff like that. Plus, make the ship slow down during the text parts,
so like if you are in “auto” mode and the rocket is moving… slow it down so we can read the text and then speed it up again during the black boring parts.

Lastly, add an amount of how many pixels make up a planet.
You mentioned that the moon is 1 pixel, but what about the sun?
or the earth, or even Jupiter being the giant it is.
So when you see, say, Jupiter, it tells you how many pixels compose it.

Just a few pointers. Great representation tho. Made it all the way to the end lol

Xanthë
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Thanks for this, a really cool piece of web programming! PZ Myers linked it recently on Pharyngula, which resulted in it getting eyeballed by a few people with pretensions to being astronomers. (And some of us are really pedantic assholes – me included! – so I apologise for noting that the appearance of the Jovian satellites immediately struck me as wrong; also please forgive me for compiling the following list of what are essentially, nitpicks.) That said, I do actually like the snarky comments interspersing the inherent tedium of accurately depicting the distances between the planets to scale!

1. In the scale legend, the normal SI abbreviation for the metre should be shown as the lower-case m, not M.

2. The spacing of the Galilean satellites have been perturbed; the three beyond Io are 121 pixels too far to the right (exactly the amount of the apparent width of Io’s orbit). The quantities 193, 307, and 541 pixels would be correct if you hadn’t already shifted the moons to start with, 121 pixels beyond Jupiter; as it stands if Io is at ‘0’ px, then E, G, and C should be at corrected distances of 72, 186, and 420 px. The reason this immediately stood out to me as not-quite-right is a well-known, fascinating feature of the Jovian satellites – Io, Europa, and Ganymede are in gravitational resonance with each other, with their orbital periods almost exactly in a 1:2:4 ratio; Kepler’s harmonic law also relates this ratio to the semi-major axes of their orbits, 1:∛2²:∛4². Callisto spoils the pattern somewhat – it’s in a ~9.4:4 ratio with Ganymede, rather than the 2:1 resonance.

3. Triton, Neptune’s giant moon is omitted, despite being well over half the diameter of the earth’s moon – and larger than Pluto! If a moon being smaller than the earth’s moon was the only criterion for non-inclusion then you would have lost Europa as well; and Triton is rather close-in to Neptune at only 102 px. Like Europa, Triton is closer to being rounded up to 1 pixel in size (whereas all of the other moons and minor planets in the solar system are closer to being rounded down to zero).

4. Eris has been measured (radiometric and occultation measurements) at almost exactly the same size (Wikipedia: 2326 ±12 km) as Pluto (2306 ±20 km)… why no love for (dwarf) planet X as well? And it would only add another 2.45 million pixels(!) further on to depict its current position 96.4 astronomical units from the sun… lol. (None of the other TNOs/dwarf planets currently known have a mean diameter greater than the moon’s radius.)

5. Having the astronomical symbols for the sun and planets to click on to automate the scrolling is a very nice feature that didn’t appear on my mobile phone; given that Pluto is 5.5 light hours from the sun, it’s nice that scrolling the entire width of the page via click only takes 5 seconds or so – that seems like an apparent speed of 4000 times the speed of light! So I imagine it might be possible to code the rate of change in the scroll location (measured in km) as a multiplicative factor of light speed…

Not a nitpick as such, but even a linear display such as this is implicitly ignoring two of the three spatial dimensions; to imagine a blob of 1 px in size representing say Pluto or the earth’s moon without scroll bars, you would need a 2D computer display of about 4 million pixels in each direction – say sixteen trillion (1.6×10¹³) pixels screen area – and then have to have some way of cubing that to a 3D model multiplying that number by another 4 million… and of those approximately 10 to the power of 20 pixels, only about 70 million would be non-black (the vast majority being those depicting the Sun).

Space is mind-bogglingly empty – though as other people have noted, if a similar graphical method were used to compare the size of an atomic nucleus to the surrounding electron cloud, the resulting display would be even larger and comparatively empty.

Finally, thanks again for doing this. Thumbs up!

jWorth
Reply

Thanks for all the great insights! I had a feeling it wouldn’t quite pass the true astronomer test. Pluto is only visible for sentimental reasons, which don’t quite mesh with actual science. I originally wasn’t going to include any moons besides ours, but then I got carried away and started adding them without really finishing. I’ll use all your notes when I revisit it. Thanks again!

Eric Rational
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Thank you for taking the time to make this, it was a fantastic experience.

Christine
Reply

Seriously Awesome! Educational, funny and thought provoking!

Mark
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On Chrome, the scroll is too fast to read the bits of writing between the planets. I see some sentences flashing by, but that’s it!

I’m on Chromium Version 32.0.1700.107 Ubuntu 13.10 (32.0.1700.107-0ubuntu0.13.10.1~20140204.972.1)

Amber
Reply

Did you try holding down the right arrow on the scroll bar? I use Chrome too and that worked much better for me.

Steph
Reply

Very good job. This is the closest I’ve ever come to wrapping my head around the size of the universe. Awesome site, Thank you!

Anthony
Reply

This is quite incredible! Great job making me feel so small :)

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