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If the moon was a pixel: a scale model of the solar system

Get your scrolling hand ready. An interactive web page has created a scale model of the solar system, where the moon is the size of just one pixel.


The solar system. Not to scale. By a long shot.
(Credit: NASA)

Get your scrolling hand ready. An interactive web page has created a scale model of the solar system, where the moon is the size of just one pixel.

If the usual artistic depictions of our solar system are anything to go by, everything's packed in pretty tightly, and the relative sizes of the planets and the sun aren't really that different. Artistic depictions, however, are usually incorrectly scaled to a massive degree. There's a very good reason for this: the distances and sizes involved are so large that it's hard to make a scale model that fits a single image, and a physical model with realistic distances would look, well, pretty strange.

A web page, on the other hand, can scroll for as long as you need it to — making it the perfect platform, as a project by artist and designer Josh Worth demonstrates. Called "If the moon were only one pixel", it does exactly what it says on the box. The moon (3474.8 kilometres) takes up one whole pixel, and everything else in the solar system is scaled down accordingly.

As it turns out, space is mostly just that: space. The solar system is arrayed along a horizontal page and you can scroll through using the bar (we preferred a touchscreen, but your mileage may vary), with a ruler indicating relative distance. You can also skip to planets using the legend at the top of the page, although you'll miss out on some of the trivia Worth includes along the way.

"I was talking about the planets with my five-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)," Worth explained on his blog. "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 realised 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?"

Worth isn't the first to attempt such a project on the web — Andrew Corden's 2010 website Scale Solar System is similar in a vertically scrolling sort of way, but lacking the tidbits of information and the scale ruler that helps contextualise the distances. Real-world projects, such as the Warrumbungle Solar System Drive, also help scale the solar system — but of course, that makes it a bit more difficult to view the planets' relative sizes.

If there's one thing Worth's project makes clear, it's that there's a very good reason humans will probably not make it outside of our own planetary system for a very long time — if ever — never mind to another Earth-like planet.

Check it out for yourself here.