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

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.

Ceres Resembles Saturn’s Icy Moons

Ceres’ topography is revealed in full (but false) color in a new map created from elevation data gathered by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, now nearly five months in orbit around the dwarf planet orbiting the Sun within the main asteroid belt.

With craters 3.7 miles (6 km) deep and mountains rising about the same distance from its surface, Ceres bears a resemblance to some of Saturn’s frozen moons.

“The craters we find on Ceres, in terms of their depth and diameter, are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are about the same size and density as Ceres,” said Paul Schenk,  Dawn science team member and a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, TX. “The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust.”

Check out a rotation video of Ceres’ topography below:

In addition to elevation mapping Ceres has also had some of its more prominent craters named. No longer just “bright spot crater” and “Spot 1,” these ancient impact scars now have official IAU monikers… from the Roman Occator to the Hawaiian Haulani to the Hopi Kerwan, craters on Ceres are named after agriculture-related gods and goddesses of mythologies from around the world.

Ceres' "bright spot" crater is now named Occator, after the Roman god of harrowing. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)
Ceres’ famous “bright spot” crater is now named Occator, after the Roman god of harrowing. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

See a full list of Ceres’ named features here.

Dawn is currently moving closer toward Ceres into its third mapping orbit. By mid-August it will be 900 miles (1448 km) above Ceres’ surface and will proceed with acquiring data from this lower altitude, three times closer than it has been previously.

At 584 miles (940 km) in diameter Ceres is about 40 percent the size of Pluto.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is the first to successfully enter orbit around two different mission targets and the first to orbit a dwarf planet. Its first target was the asteroid Vesta, which it orbited from July 2011 to September 2012. Dawn arrived in orbit at Ceres on March 6, 2015 and there it will remain during its primary science phase and beyond; Ceres is now Dawn’s permanent home.

Learn more about the Dawn mission here and find out where Dawn and Ceres are now here.

Ceres (left, Dawn image) compared to Tethys (right, Cassini image) at comparative scale sizes. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA and NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Comparison by J. Major.)
Ceres (left, Dawn image) compared to Tethys (right, Cassini image) at comparative scale sizes. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA and NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Comparison by J. Major.)

Source: NASA

This Is The Asteroid That Didn’t Hit Us


All right, sure – there are a lot of asteroids that don’t hit us. And of course quite a few that do… Earth is impacted by around 100 tons of space debris every day (although that oft-stated estimate is still being researched.) But on March 10, 2015, a 12–28 meter asteroid dubbed 2015 ET cosmically “just missed us,” zipping past Earth at 0.3 lunar distances – 115,200 kilometers, or 71, 580 miles.*

The video above shows the passage of 2015 ET across the sky on the night of March 11–12, tracked on camera from the Crni Vrh Observatory in Slovenia. It’s a time-lapse video (the time is noted along the bottom) so the effect is really neat to watch the asteroid “racing along” in front of the stars… but then, it was traveling a relative 12.4 km/second!

UPDATE 3/14: As it turns out the object in the video above is not 2015 ET; it is a still-undesignated NEO. (My original source had noted this incorrectly as well.) Regardless, it was an almost equally close pass not 24 hours after 2015 ET’s! Double tap. (ht to Gerald in the comments.) UPDATE #2: The designation for the object above is now 2015 EO6.

Continue reading “This Is The Asteroid That Didn’t Hit Us”

Yuri Gagarin Memorialized in a Funky Music Video

On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin entered the “realm of myth and legend” when he became the first human in space and the first person to orbit the Earth. Now, over 53 years later, Gagarin is memorialized with (among many things) a superhero-esque statue in Moscow, yearly Yuri’s Night celebrations held around the world, a launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome…and this music video for a hip new tune titled “Gagarin.”

Oh kids these days.

Created by the two-person London-based band PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING “Gagarin” is the first single released off their new album “The Race for Space.” The music and video, which uses newly-available footage from the Soviet space program, is a “brassy, funk-heavy superhero theme song for the most famous man in the world at the time” and “reveals a new side to the band – not least their considerable dancing skills.”

PSB creator J. Willgoose, Esq. explains the rationale behind the song:
“We didn’t want to be too literal in our interpretation of the material we were given – material that was full of heroic language and a sense of exuberance, with lines like ‘the hero who blazed the trail to the stars’, and ‘the whole world knew him and loved him’. It seemed more appropriate to try and re-create some of that triumphant air with a similarly upbeat song – and when it came to creating the video, the best way we could think of to communicate that sense of joy was to get our dancing shoes on.”

As a fan of Yuri, spaceflight, and brass-band breakdancers in astronaut suits, I give this video two Vostoks up.

You can pre-order PSB’s newest album here, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook, and YouTube.

Video © PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING. HT to Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing.

See What Astronauts See In This Stunning ISS Timelapse


Yes, it’s another time-lapse video made from photos taken by astronauts aboard the ISS. Yes, it’s been digitally remastered, smoothed-over, and set to a dramatic technopop soundtrack. But no, it’s still not boring because our planet is beautiful and spaceflight is and always will be absolutely fascinating.

There. I said it.

The video above “Astronaut – a Journey to Space” is everything that I just mentioned and was compiled and edited by photographer and video artist Guillaume Juin. The original images were gathered from Johnson Space Center’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth site, and were captured during ISS missions from 2011 to 2014. Aforementioned dramatic technopop music is by Vincent Tone. Watch it above, or for maximum impact watch it full-screen. (I strongly advise the latter.) Enjoy!

HT to Sploid and fellow EFT-1 NASA Social participant Ailyn Marie for bringing this to my attention.

On Scarves, Squirrels, and the Fate of the Universe

Are you scared of the dark, personal failure, or just feeling a tad nihilistic? Maybe you’re worried about asteroids, solar flares, or the heat death of the Universe… or perhaps you’ve just misplaced your favorite winter accessory and it’s driving you… er, nuts. If any of these are applicable (or even if none is) be sure to watch the ridiculously award-winning video above by animator Eoin Duffy. (And if you’re wondering why I’m sharing this on Universe Today, well… you’ll see.)

Click. Play. Now.

Credit: Eoin Duffy. HT to the Observation Deck @io9.

Landing on a Comet: The Trailer

In less than a month, on November 12, 2014, the 100-kg Philae lander will separate from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft and descend several kilometers down to the dark, dusty and frozen surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, its three spindly legs and rocket-powered harpoon all that will keep it from crashing or bouncing hopelessly back out into space. It will be the culmination of a decade-long voyage across the inner Solar System, a testament to human ingenuity and inventiveness and a shining example of the incredible things we can achieve through collaboration. But first, Philae has to get there… it has to touch down safely and successfully become, as designed, the first human-made object to soft-land on the nucleus of a comet. How will the little spacecraft pull off such a daring maneuver around a tumbling chunk of icy rubble traveling over 18 km/s nearly 509 million km away? The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has released a “trailer” for the event, worthy of the best sci-fi film. Check it out below.

Want to see more? Of course you do. Keep an eye out for the 11-minute short film “Landing on a Comet – The Rosetta Mission” to be released soon on YouTube here, and follow the latest news from the Rosetta mission here (and here on Universe Today, too!)

“The reason we’re at this comet is for science, no other reason. We’re doing this to get the best science. To characterize this comet has never been done before.”

Original Material: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
Footage: ESA
Credit 67P image: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Music: Omega by TimMcMorris

Source: DLR

Glowing Galaxies Shine Above Trance-Like Telescopic Timelapse

We often speak of the discoveries and data flowing from astronomical observatories, which makes it easy to forget the cool factor. Think of it — huge telescopes are probing the universe under crystal-clear skies, because astronomers need the dark skies to get their work done.

That’s what makes this astronomical video by Jan Hattenbach such a treat. He’s spent the past three years catching stunning video shots at observatories all over the world, showing timelapses of the Milky Way galaxy and other celestial objects passing overhead.

“The time-lapses were a byproduct of our visual observing – because obviously, these sites are also the best in the world for visual observing and astrophotography. If you ever have the chance to spend a night at one of these observatories, consider yourself very lucky!” wrote Hattenbach on Vimeo.

And often you don’t even need a telescope to appreciate the beauty of the cosmos. Earlier this summer, we posted another video showing the stunning sky above Desert National Park.

Take a Flight Over a Massive Aurora

Or perhaps I should say “eine grosse Aurora!” ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst made this time-lapse of a “massive aurora” as seen from the Space Station on August 24. The entire video is beautiful, showing not just a view of the ghostly green aurora but also plenty of stars, airglow, the graceful rotation of the ISS’ solar arrays, and finally the blooming light of dawn – one of sixteen the crew of the Station get to witness every day.

Then again, I’m now wondering: what is the mass of an aurora? Hmm…

Source: ESA on Facebook