Five friends traveled to a dry lake bed in Nevada to create an accurate scale model of the planets' orbits. (Screenshot) © Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh

This is a Scale Model of the Solar System Like You’ve Never Seen Before

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
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We’ve all seen illustrations of the Solar System. They’re in our school textbooks, on posters, on websites, on t-shirts… in some cases they’re used to represent the word “science” itself (and for good reason.) But, for the most part, they’re all wrong. At least where scale is concerned.

Sure, you can show the Sun and planets in relative size to each other accurately. But then the actual distances between them will probably be way off.* And OK, you can outline the planets’ concentric orbits around the Sun to scale pretty easily. But then there’s no convenient way to make sure that the planets themselves would actually be visible. In order to achieve both, you have to leave the realm of convenience behind entirely and make a physical model that, were you to start with an Earth the size of a marble, would stretch for several miles (and that’s not even taking Pluto into consideration.)

This is exactly what filmmaker Wylie Overstreet and four of his friends did in 2014, spending a day and a half on a dry lake bed in Nevada where they measured out and set up a scale model of the Sun and planets (not including Pluto, don’t tell Alan Stern) including their respective circular orbits. They then shot time-lapse images of their illuminated cars driving around the orbits. The resulting video is educational, mesmerizing, beautiful, and overall a wonderful demonstration of the staggering scale of space in the Solar System.

Watch the video below:

Or watch full-screen on Vimeo here.

For some reason whenever I think about the sheer amount of space there actually is in space, it gets me a like choked up. These guys get an “A+” for effort, execution, and entertainment!

Credit: Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh

*There have been a few web pages that have been able to show the scale sizes and distances of the planets (and there are even some driving-distance ones too) but often they oversimplify by lining the planets up in a row — which doesn’t happen all that often and doesn’t portray the orbital circumferences either. This all just happens to be a favorite contemplating point of mine.

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21 Responses

  1. laurele says:

    I request they create an updated version include. Even better, why not include Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. Yes, that would take a lot more space, but adding these planets would create an even better and more accurate representation of our solar system.

    • mewo says:

      The salt flat might not be big enough to accommodate the bigger orbits.

    • laurele says:

      Oops, the first sentence should say “I request they create an updated version that includes Pluto.” I get that the salt flat might not be big enough to accommodate the bigger orbits. At the same time, the possibility of a Mars-sized planet orbiting far beyond Pluto has not been ruled out. Our solar system might be a lot bigger than we realize.

  2. hydrazine says:

    It’s actually been done before: Sweden Solar System (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden_Solar_System). But still, very nice video, even though Neptune isn’t strictly speaking on the edge of the Solar System.

    Regards,
    /hydrazine

  3. Ponce says:

    The film’s presentation humbles the mind.

  4. Ponce says:

    Many emotions went over me after seeing the clip’s representation of the Solar System’s scale. The main one was and continues to be, how can science keep insisting all this perfect order formed itself? With all the delving into the whys & wherefores and coming up with many scientific answers, it should lead one to understand that SomeOne designed, formed and placed the Universe where it is.
    Wylie and his four friends made this presentation possible- to get a point across. Should I insist the film ‘somehow’ made itself?
    Wylie, Alex

    • Jason Major says:

      The Solar System isn’t perfect. If we could look at it 4 billion years ago, it would seem far from with everything smashing into everything else. And in another 5 billion years it will look quite different, and our dear blue planet will be uninhabitable. We just happen to be at an opportune moment when the view is nice.

    • TheBtt says:

      Does someone create a clam still puddle or is it the result of a chaotic rain storm that happened hours ago? If you were on a tiny boat in this puddle and your life was a few hours long, you might think someone made it just for you.

    • LapsedPacifist 2 says:

      Poems are made by fools like me,
      Only God can make a tree,
      But only fools like you and me,
      Can make a God that makes a tree.

      – with apologies to Yip Harburg

      And to paraphrase Ponce, “how can religion keep insisting this perfect God formed itself?”

  5. Ponce says:

    I just read the other two comments. One says more planets should have been inserted in the model. The other one says in Sweden someone already did.
    I say that this clip put the point across very nicely. To scale, humanity is nothing and here we are building fences, requiring passports/visas, murdering each other. How sad.

  6. UFOsMOTHER says:

    Yes Ponce I agree this is Fantastic and we are so fortunate to live on Our Beautiful Blue Marble..”.Thank you Creator”

  7. avcpl says:

    so you can’t accept that this “just happened” but you can accept that a creator that made it just happened himself. Or perhaps something so amazing as a creator must have had a creator. Yeah! that explains it!

    but who created the creator’s creator? perhaps some animals with overactive imaginations and to lazy to do the work science requires?

  8. Scottie says:

    This has been done before on a much bigger scale
    Using the observatory dome at Siding Springs NSW Austraila as the Sun on all the roads that travel to the observatory and Coonabarabran There are bill boards on the road side at the correct scale distance of the orbit with models at scale for the planets it takes many hours to drive the solar system

  9. Pete says:

    It’s been done more than once before.
    There are a beautiful set of obelisks in Ithaca, NY (USA), each with a scale planet encased in glass, each located at a correct scale distance from the sum obelisk.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagan_Planet_Walk

  10. CinIN says:

    Great video. As a couple of others have mentioned this has been done before and many places have permanent models (search Wikipedia for scale model solar systems). If you’d like to build your own on a smaller scale see this web page at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s website: The Thousand Yard Model, or The Earth as a Peppercorn.
    http://www.noao.edu/education/peppercorn/pcmain.html

  11. ToSeek says:

    I tried to work out how far away the nearest star would be at the scale of this model and came up with 30,000 miles. Space is big!

  12. Takojohn says:

    Ahem: The orbits are actually ellipses and shold have been made so. A model of the solar system exists here in Helsinki, Finland, it is made of polished stainless spheres situated around the city at appropriate distances.

    • ToSeek says:

      Yes, and the planets should speed up at perihelion and slow down at aphelion at the appropriate rates! (Seriously, you’re asking a lot of an overnight effort. Maybe if it were a permanent installation.)

  13. aaronorion says:

    Nothing created The Creator. As humans we are not supposed to be able to grasp that

Comments are closed.