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
Solar System Walk

An Exploration of Scale

United States Carlsbad, California 1:5,280,000,000 28 m 1,119 m Located near Lake Calavera [Trailhead]
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 Coonabarabran, New South Wales 1:38,000,000 37 m 34 cm 4,100 m 205 km permanent; drivable (est. 1997)
Maine Solar System Model United States University of Maine at Presque Isle, Maine 1:93,000,000 15 m 13.7 cm 1,600 m 64 km permanent; drivable (est.2003)
Riverfront Museum Central Illinois Community Solar System United States Peoria, Illinois 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
Planet Trek Dane County United States Madison - Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin 1:200,000,000 7 m 6.6 cm 777 m 38.3 km permanent; fully accessible by foot & bike paths (est. 2009)
Light Speed Planet Walk United States Anchorage, Alaska 1:350,000,000  ?  ?  ? 16.6 km permanent; drivable (est. 2005)
Moab's Scale Model of the Solar System United States Moab, Utah 1:400,000,000 3.6 m  ?  ? 15.3 km permanent; Walk & Drive (est. 2007)
Solar System Stroll Australia Perth, Western Australia 1:5,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 30 m 1.2 km permanent; walkable (est. 2016)
Community Solar System Trail United States Boston, Massachusetts 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 United Kingdom Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, Somerset 1:530,000,000 2.5 m  ? cm  ? m 11 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1997)
York’s solar system model United Kingdom York, England 1:575,872,239 2.4 m 2.2 cm 260 m 10.3 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1999)
Michigan Solar System Model United States Coleman, Midland County. Michigan, USA 1:608,000,000 2.3 m 2.1 cm 324 m 9.8 km permanent; bike trail Sun & Pls. Spheres (2017)
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 Fort St. John, British Columbia 1:682,353,000 2.0 m 1.9 cm 219 m 8.6 km under construction
McCarthy Observatory United States New Milford, Connecticut 1:761,155,000 1.8 m 1.7 cm 195 m 7.1 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2009)
Trilho do Sistema Solar Portugal Área de Paisagem Protegida do Corno de Bico, Paredes de Coura 1:831,000,000 1.675 m 1.533 cm 180 m 5.42 km (Neptune) permanent; walkable; bikeable (est. 2016)
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
Planetenwanderweg Germany Ehrenfriedersdorf, Drebach and Heidelbachtal 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable
Planetary Trail Czech Republic Hradec Králové 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 United States Eugene, Oregon 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 La Malbaie, Quebec 1:1,500,000,000 0.9 m 0.8 cm 100 m 3 km (Neptune) permanent; walkable (est. 2009) (temp?)
Rymdpromenaden ("Spacewalk") Sweden Gothenburg 1:2,000,000,000 0.7 m 0.6 cm 75 m 3 km permanent; walkable (est. 1978)
Elmhurst Scale Model of the Solar System United States Elmhurst, Illinois 1:3,044,620,000 0.5 m 0.4 cm 49.1 m 1,929 m permanent; walk & drive (est. 2013)
Wooster Planet Walk United States Wooster, Ohio 1:5,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 30 m 1.2 km permanent; walkable (est. 2014)
Voyage United States National Mall, Washington, D.C. (2001)

Power & Light District to Union Station, Kansas City, Missouri (2008)
Space Center Houston, Texas (2008)
Corpus Christi, Texas (2009)

1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km
New Jersey State Botanical Garden United States Ringwood, New Jersey 1:10,000,000,000 0.2 m 2.0 cm 23.8 m 927 m walkable
Solar System Walking Tour United States Gainesville, Georgia 1:2,000,000,000 0.7 m 0.6 cm 75 m 2.9 km permanent; walkable (est. 2000)
Montshire Museum of Science United States Norwich, Vermont 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 United States Boise Greenbelt, Boise, Idaho 1:2,200,000,000 0.5 m n/a 2.4 km permanent; walkable & bikeable;
The Solar walk United States Longview, Washington 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 United States Gainesville, Florida 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 United Kingdom Otford, England 1:4,595,700,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 32 m 0.9 km permanent; walkable
The Sagan Planet Walk United States Ithaca, New York 1:5,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 30 m 1.2 km permanent; walkable (est. 1997)
The Solar Walk United States Cleveland, Ohio 1:5,280,000,000 0.3 m 0.2 cm 28.4 m 1.1 km permanent; walkable
Delmar Loop Planet Walk United States University City, Missouri 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 United States Fiske Planetarium, Boulder, Colorado 1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km permanent; walkable (est. 1987)
Anstruther Model Solar System United Kingdom Anstruther, Scotland 1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km permanent; walkable (est. 2014)
Le Chemin Solaire France La Couyère, Brittany 1:10,000,000,000 1 m 0.1 cm - 0.45 km permanent; walkable (est. 2011)
Sunspot Solar System Model United States Sunspot, New Mexico 1:250,000,000 5.6 m 5.1 cm 1.5 m 23,6 km permanent, drivable
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 United Kingdom Scotland 1:8,200,000 170 m 156 cm 18,300 m 551 km (Neptune) (virtual)
Spaced Out Project United Kingdom England 1:15,000,000 - - - - under construction; country-wide. Partially dual scale (No scale model of the sun.)
Sorghvliet Netherlands The Hague, Netherlands 1:696,000,000 2.0 m 1.8 cm 215 m 6.5 km (Neptune) (temporary)
Sol Chicago United States 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, Switzerland 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 United States Madison, Wisconsin 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 Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Quebec 1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km (dismantled) (est. 1985)
Lafayette Walk United States Detroit, Michigan 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."
Planets on the Path United States Chicago, Illinois 1:2,195,000,000 457 m 11.4 m (2015, temporary)
The Solar System, to scale, for a school yard PDF for printing 1:11,945,400,000 11.6 cm 0.1 cm 12.5 m 492 m PDFs, A4 and 8½″×11″, to be printed, affixed to cards which are affixed to sticks; then to be held by children standing in a school yard. Includes major moons and asteroids.

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 Leicester, Leicestershire Nelson Bay, New South Wales
Pluto 7 cm (3 in) baseball 190 km (118 mi) Wildwood, New Jersey Hereford, Herefordshire Bulahdelah, New South Wales
Eris 8 cm (3 in) baseball 325 km (202 mi) Brooklyn, New York Blackpool, Lancashire 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 Observatory, the Louisiana Arts and Sciences Museum, the Adventure Science Center, etc.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]