Solar System model

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Jupiter at South Station, part of Museum of Science, Boston scale model

Solar System models, especially mechanical models, called orreries, that illustrate the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons in the Solar System have been built for centuries. While they often showed relative sizes, these models were usually not built to scale. The enormous ratio of interplanetary distances to planetary diameters makes constructing a scale model of the Solar System a challenging task. As one example of the difficulty, the distance between the Earth and the Sun is almost 12,000 times the diameter of the Earth.

If the smaller planets are to be easily visible to the naked eye, large outdoor spaces are generally necessary, as is some means for highlighting objects that might otherwise not be noticed from a distance. The objects in such models do not move. Traditional orreries often did move and some used clockworks to make the relative speeds of objects accurate. These can be thought of as being correctly scaled in time instead of distance.

Scale models in various locations[edit]

Several towns and institutions have built outdoor scale models of the Solar System. Here is a table comparing these models.

Scale Models of the Solar System: Permanent Installations
Name Location Scale Sun dia. Earth dia. Sun-Earth Sun-Pluto Description
Actual statistics 1:1 1.392 Gm 12.76 Mm 149.6 Gm 5.914 Tm
Spaced Out Project UK: England 1:15,000,000 - - - - under construction; country-wide
Sweden Solar System Sweden 1:20,000,000 71 m 65 cm 7,600 m 300 km permanent; country-wide (begun 1998)
Solar System Drive Australia: New South Wales, Coonabarabran 1:38,000,000 37 m 34 cm 4,100 m 205 km permanent; drivable (est. 1997)
Maine Solar System Model USA: Maine, University of Maine at Presque Isle 1:93,000,000 15 m 13.7 cm 1,600 m 64 km permanent; drivable (est.2003)
Elmhurst Scale Model of the Solar System USA: Illinois, Elmhurst 1:3,044,620,000 18 in 0.1647 in 161.2 ft 6,330 ft permanent; walk & drive (est. 2013)
Scale Model of the Solar System USA: Illinois, Peoria 1:125,000,000 11 m 10.0 cm 1,200 m 47 km permanent; drivable (est. 1992?)
Planet Lofoten Norway: Lofoten 1:200,000,000 7 m  ?  ? 30 km under construction
Light Speed Planet Walk USA: Alaska, Anchorage 1:350,000,000  ?  ?  ? 16.6 km permanent; drivable (est. 2005)
Moab's Scale Model of the Solar System USA: Utah, Moab, Utah 1:400,000,000 142 inch  ?  ? 9.5 miles permanent; Walk & Drive (est. 2007)
Community Solar System Trail USA: Massachusetts, Boston 1:400,000,000 3.5 m 3.2 cm 380 m 15.3 km permanent; drivable
The Solar System to Scale Portugal: Estremoz 1:414,000,000 3.4 m 3.1 cm 361 m 14.3 km permanent; drivable; bikeable
Somerset Space Walk UK: Somerset, Bridgwater and Taunton Canal 1:530,000,000 2.5 m  ? cm  ? m 11 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1997)
York’s solar system model UK: England, York 1:575,872,239 2.4 m 2.2 cm 260 m 10.3 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1999)
Nine Views Croatia: Zagreb 1:680,000,000 2.0 m 1.9 cm 225 m 8.7 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2004)
Walk the Solar System Canada: BC, Fort St. John 1:682,353,000 2.0 m 1.9 cm 219 m 8.6 km under construction
McCarthy Observatory USA: Connecticut, New Milford 1:761,155,000 1.8 m 1.7 cm 195 m 7.1 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2009)
Model of the Solar System Finland: Helsinki 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.2 cm 149.6 m 6.1 km permanent; bikeable
Planetenmodell Hagen Germany: Hagen 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1971)
Planetenweg Schwarzbach Germany: Kriftel 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1998)
Uetliberg Planetenweg Switzerland: Zurich 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable
PlanetenwanderwegPlanetenwanderweg Germany: Ehrenfriedersdorf; Drebach; Heidelbachtal 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable
Planetary Trail Czech Republic: Hradec Kralove 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2005)
Melbourne Solar System Australia: Melbourne 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2008)
Scale Model Solar System USA: Oregon, Eugene 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.2 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1997)
Planet Walk Germany: Munich 1:1,290,000,000 1.1 m 1.0 cm 116 m 4.6 km permanent; walkable (est. 1995)
Strolling at the speed of light Canada: Québec, La Malbaie 1:1,500,000,000 0.9 m 0.8 cm 100 m 3 km (Neptune) permanent; walkable (est. 2009) (temp?)
Solar System Walking Tour USA: Georgia, Gainesville 1:2,000,000,000 0.7 m 0.6 cm 75 m 2.9 km permanent; walkable (est. 2000)
Montshire Museum of Science USA: Vermont, Norwich 1:2,200,000,000 0.6 m 0.6 cm 68 m 2.7 km permanent; walkable
Ride to Pluto: Boise's Solar System Boise, Idaho Greenbelt 1:2,200,000,000 0.5m n/a 2.4 km permanent; walkable & bikeable
The Solar walk USA: Washington, Longview, Lake Sacajawea 1:?? 0.6 m 0.6 cm  ? m 2.7 km permanent; walkable (est. 2001)
Milky Way path Netherlands: Westerbork 1:3,700,000,000  ?  ?  ? 2.5 km permanent; walkable
Solar Walk USA: Florida, Gainesville 1:4,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 37.4 m 1.5 km permanent; walkable (est. 2002)
Otford Solar System Model UK: England, Kent, Otford 1:4,595,700,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 32 m 0.9 km permanent; walkable
The Sagan Planet Walk USA: New York, Ithaca 1:5,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 30 m 1.2 km permanent; walkable (est. 1997)
The Solar Walk USA: Ohio Cleveland 1:5,280,000,000 0.3 m 0.2 cm 28.4 m 1.1 km permanent; walkable
Delmar Loop Planet Walk USA: Missouri University City 1:5,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.2 cm 30 m 0.87 km (Neptune) permanent; walkable (est. 2009)
Colorado Scale Model Solar System USA: Colorado, Boulder Fiske Planetarium 1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km permanent; walkable (est. 1987)
Voyage USA: Wash, DC. National Mall (2001)

USA: MO, Kansas City. Power&Light District to Union Station(2008)
USA: TX, Houston. Space Center Houston (2008)
USA: TX, Corpus Christi. Historic Waterfront (2009)
USA: IA, Des Moines. State Capitol Grounds (2009)
USA: MD, Baltimore. Inner Harbor (2010)

1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km
Le Chemin Solaire France: Brittany, La Couyère 1:10,000,000,000 1 m 0.1 cm - 0.45 km permanent; walkable (est. 2011)
Other Models of the Solar System: temporary, virtual, or dual-scale
Name Location Scale Sun dia. Earth dia. Sun-Earth Sun-Pluto Description
Scottish Solar System Project UK: Scotland 1:8,200,000 170 m 156 cm 18,300 m 551 km (Neptune) (virtual)
Sorghvliet Netherlands: The Hague 1:696,000,000 2.0 m 1.8 cm 215 m 6.5 km (Neptune) (temporary)
Sol Chicago USA: Illinois, Chicago 1:73,660,000 19 m 17.3 cm 2,050 m 61 km (Neptune) (temporary) proposed
Le Chemin des planètes Switzerland: Saint-Luc 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km uses two different scales for distance and size
The Madison Planet Stroll USA: Wisconsin, Madison 1:4,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 37 m 1.5 km (virtual)
The Thousand-Yard Model (virtual) 1:6,336,000,000 0.2 m 0.2 cm 25 m 1 km (virtual)
(dismantled) Canada: Quebec, Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! 1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km (dismantled) (est. 1985)
Lafayette Walk USA: Michigan Detroit 1:6,336,000,000 23 cm 0.2 cm 25 m 983 m A Walking Demonstration of (un)imaginable distances. "It's nowhere near Graham's Number."

Several sets of geocaching caches have been laid out as solar system models.

A model based on a classroom globe[edit]

Most classroom globes are 41 cm (16 inches) in diameter. If the Earth were reduced to this size, the Moon would be a 10 cm (4 in) baseball floating 12 metres (40 feet) away. The Sun would be a beach ball 14 stories tall (somewhat smaller than the Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot) floating 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) away. While a complete model to this scale has never been built, a Solar System built centered in Washington DC, London, or Sydney, to that scale (approximately 1:31 000 000) would look like this:

Body Diameter object comparison Semi-major axis scale model location (U.S.) scale model location (U.K.) scale model location (Australia)
Sun 44.6 m (146 ft) 14 story tall sphere, Spaceship Earth (Epcot) zero White House, Washington DC Buckingham Palace Sydney Opera House
Mercury 15 cm (6 in) large grapefruit 1.9 km (1.2 mi) National Air and Space Museum Covent Garden Elizabeth Bay, New South Wales
Venus 38 cm (15 in) beach ball 3.5 km (2.2 mi) John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame, Arlington National Cemetery Regent's Park Sydney Football Stadium
Earth 41 cm (16 in) classroom globe 4.8 km (3.0 mi) Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Tower of London Rozelle Hospital
Moon 10 cm (4 in) baseball 12 m (40 ft) from Earth
Mars 23 cm (9 in) dodgeball 7.2 km (4.5 mi) Rock Creek Park Golf Course King's College London Bondi Beach, New South Wales
Ceres 3 cm (1 in) golf ball 13.3 km (8.3 mi)
Jupiter 4.55 m (15 ft) Commercial van 24.9 km (15.5 mi) George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia London Heathrow Airport Scotland Island, New South Wales
Saturn 3.81 m (12 ft 6 in) Roundabout (merry-go-round) 45.5 km (28.3 mi) Marine Corps Base Quantico, Triangle, Virginia Luton, Bedfordshire Copacabana, New South Wales
Uranus 1.63 m (5 ft 4 in) average 8th grade boy 92.2 km (57.3 mi) Aberdeen Proving Ground, Aberdeen, Maryland Waterlooville, Hampshire Bombo, New South Wales
Neptune 1.55 m (5 ft 1 in) average 6th grade boy 144.4 km (89.7 mi) Newark, Delaware Calais, France Nelson Bay, New South Wales
Pluto 7 cm (3 in) baseball 190 km (118 mi) Wildwood, New Jersey Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, France Bulahdelah, New South Wales
Eris 8 cm (3 in) baseball 325 km (202 mi) Brooklyn, New York Rotterdam, Netherlands Port Macquarie, New South Wales
α Centauri A 49.5 m (162 ft) Spaceship Earth (Epcot) 1,323,500 km (822,400 mi) over 3 times the distance to the moon over 3 times the distance to the moon over 3 times the distance to the moon

If the scale of the above model is increased to 1:310 000 000, i.e. all distances and sizes reduced by a factor of 10, then the Earth and Venus can be modeled by ping pong balls, the Moon and smaller planets by various size marbles or lumps of modeling clay, the gas giants by balloons or larger playing balls, and a circle the diameter of the Sun can be drawn on the floor of most classrooms. The scale distance to α Centauri would be 1/3 of the way to the Moon.

Some planetaria and related museums often use this type of scale model of the Solar System, with a planetarium dome representing the Sun. Examples of this can be seen in planetaria like the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, the Clark Planetarium, the Griffith Obervatory, the Louisiana Arts and Sciences Museum, the Adventure Science Center, etc.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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