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Cathy, Mary, Tom, & Maggie

 

 

Scale Model of the Solar System

Purpose: To give people a perspective of the sheer size of space. To help students realize tht the world inn which we live is truly a fragile blue dot in space, and perhaps a better perspective of our home planet might cause us to reevaluate our attitude toward better stewardship of the environment and greater respect for our fellow man.

Nine Planets in the Solar System

Mercury - 4,878 km in diameter, and 57,900,000 km from the Sun

Venus - 12,104 km in diameter, and 108,200,000 km from the Sun

Earth - 12,765 km in diameter, and 149,600,000 km from the Sun

Mars - 6,794 km in diameter, and 227,900,000 km from the Sun

Jupiter - 142,800 km id diameter, and 778,000,000 km from the Sun

Saturn - 120,540 km in diameter, and 1,427,000,000 km from the Sun

Uranus - 51,200 km in diameter, and 2,871,000,000 km from the Sun

Neptune - 49,500 km in diameter, and 4,497,000,000 km from the Sun

Pluto - 2,200 km in diameter, and 5,913,000,000 km from the Sun

The nearest star to our Sun is Proxima Centauri ... at 4.3 light years

The nearest major galaxy is Andromeda ... at 2,650,000 light years

And the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are just two of an estimated 100,000,000,000 galaxies!

These numbers have little meaning to anyone who merely reads them, since most people lack a reference point from which they can better grasp what these numbers really are telling.

Let's look at these places and travel on an imaginary journey to them ... beginning from the surface of the Sun.

The Sun ... nothing but an average, middle-aged star.

 

 

Mercuy - 4,878 km in diameter, and 57,900,000 km from the Sun

The pictures above and below show an airless, bone-dry world that is pocked with craters like the Moon. It is the only planet in the solar system that spins exactly up and down like a top. But it spins pretty slow ... 58 days to turn around once. It orbits pretty fast, taking just under 88 days to make one trip around the Sun. It is the planet with the greatest temperature extreme ... -300F and night and 800F during the day! If you step from the sunlight into the shadow of a crater, the temperature will drop 1100F. Currently, we have placed the Messenger spacecraft into an orbit near Mercury, and it is sending back really cool new pictures.

 

Venus - 12,104 km in diameter, and 108,200,000 km from the Sun

The top picture is what astronomers see when they look at Venus with a telescope. It is complete covered with clouds, and NO ONE has ever seen the surface of this planet. For a long time, scientists thought that Venus might be teeming with life because it is close to the Sun and covered in clouds. When the US Magellan spacecraft bounced radar off the surface, they got the picture you see below ... a planet with craters, mountains, high continental areas, and low ocean bottoms ... except that there is no water.

The picture below was taken by one of the Russian Venera spacecraft that landed on Venus in the 1970's When the spacecraft landed, we learned that Venus is HOT. IT has a surface temperature of 900F all of the time, day and night, every day of the year. It spins backward ... so the Sun rises in the west and sets in the east. No other planet does this. There is no water, no wind ... just hot, Hot, HOT air. And the air has a pressure 90 times greater than Earth, so you would be crushed under the physical equivalent weight of a steamroller if you waked outside. That is after you spontaneously combust from the 900F temperature. If that is not enough, the clouds that surround Venus are made of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid!

 

Earth - 12,765 km in diameter, and 149,600,000 km from the Sun

The is our planet ... Earth. It is the only planet where life exists as we know it, and the only place where water exists simultaneously as solid, liquid, and gas. Earth has a single Moon that we call the Moon. A better term would be "natural satellite."

The bottom picture shows Neil Armstrong saluting the flag on the Moon ... July 20, 1969.

This last picture is significant. It was taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts on December 24, 1968. It shows the Earth rising over the lunar landscape. This picture captured better than any other, the fragile nature of the planet, and caused many people to increase their sense of environmental awareness. Earth's resources are not unlimited.

 

Mars - 6,794 km in diameter, and 227,900,000 km from the Sun

Mars is the 4th planet out, and about 1/2 the size of Earth. It has a very thin atmosphere of carbon dioxide, so you cannot breathe the air. The surface temperature in the summer reaches 60F, but can spend much of winter well below -120F. The picture below shows rocks and sand on the surface. The US has landed many different things on the surface of Mars, and right now, there are two rovers scurrying around as well as another less mobile digger. Mars is famous for violent dust storms, huge mountains, enormous canyons, and active landslides. The most recent discovery is that water does exist under the surface!

Jupiter - 142,800 km id diameter, and 778,000,000 km from the Sun

 

Juipiter is the bigger planet ... with a diameter over 10 times bigger than Earth. Over 1000 earths can fit inside Jupiter. But Jupiter is nothing more than a giant ball of hydrogen and helium gases and a few minor gases as well. The Red Spot in the picture above is a giant hurricane as big as 2 earths, and a storm that has been blowing for over 400 consecutive years. Jupiter has 63 moons, of which 4 are as big or bigger than our Moon. The picture below shows one of those moons, Io. It looks strange because it is strange. Every black mark is a place where a volcano is or just was erupting. The picture below Io is a close-up of Europa, another of Jupiter's moons. You are looking at a ice surface of frozen water, under which is a giant liquid ocean.

 

Saturn - 120,540 km in diameter, and 1,427,000,000 km from the Sun

Okay ... just look at this picture. Nothing like Saturn to stir your hearts and make you say "Oooooh," and "Ahhhhh." Go ahead now and say it. Saturn is just a little smaller than Jupiter ... with the rings going well out father! It is also a giant ball of gases. Saturn has 60 moons, of which is the most exciting Titan, as seen below. Titan is the biggest moon, and has an atmosphere of gases similar to what scientists think was on the earliest days of Earth. We landed a spacecraft there in the summer of 2007! The other pictures below show some of the additional moons of Saturn and a classic picture of the planet as seen from the backside.

 

Uranus - 51,200 km in diameter, and 2,871,000,000 km from the Sun

Uranus represents the halfway point of the Solar System in terms of distance. It is a world made of gas and liquid mixed together to make a world like slush. Wha makes this planet special is that it is tipped over on its side, unlike any other planet. It has 27 moons, of which my favorite is Miranda (below). Astronomers think that Miranda was broken into pieces and subsequently reassembled into the appearance we see here.

 

Neptune - 49,500 km in diameter, and 4,497,000,000 km from the Sun

The top picture is an actual photograph of Neptune. Yes ... it really is that blue. The reason is due to the methane that makes up some of the uppermost gases. Neptune is really cold ... like over -400F. At that temperature, almost everything it frozen. If you were to fart on Neptune, a little puff of blue smoke would come out of you and freeze into a small pile of bluish snow!

Below is a photograph of the south pole of Triton ... Neptune's largest moon, and one of 11. The black streaks are actual volcanic eruptions of nitrogen gase and liquid. Imagine volcanism on a moon with a surface temperature of 34.5K ... this is almost at Absolute Zero!

 

 

Pluto - 2,200 km in diameter, and 5,913,000,000 km from the Sun

Last "planet" is Pluto, and it is also the smallest. This little guy has a moon named Charon, and two more tiny ones as well. It was demoted two years ago because astronomers thought it was more like a giant comet and less like a planet. As for this class, we will call Pluto a PLANET. So, we will think of the solar system as having 9 planets for my class.

 

Proxima Centauri - a red dwarf star that is the nearest neighbor to the Sun in any direction, 4.3 light years from the Sun

This is not easy to comprehend. Light travels 300,000 km in one second. It goes to the Moon in 1.2 seconds. It goes to the Sun in 8 minutes. It goes out to Pluto in 4 hours. Just 4 hours! The closest star to our Sun, in any direction, is Proxima Centauri. This little red star is part of the Alpha Centauri system visible in the southern hemisphere. Light takes over 4 years to get to this star. Not 4 hours, but 4 years! And that is just one star of 200 billion!

 

Andromeda - The nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way ... at 2,650,000 light years

Last is the Andromeda Galaxy ... a huge 250 billion star galaxy similar to the Milky Way ... but a little bigger. At a distance of 2.65 million light years, this means that when you look at the galaxy with your eyes at night, you are looking at light that left the Milky Way 2.65 million years ago, and is just getting here now!

 

The Universe - represented by the Hubble Ultra Deep Field

This slide shows just a small piece of the night sky. Look at all of the galaxies! These galaxies are millions and even billions of light years away!

SPACE IS SIMPLY HUGE AND DIVERSE ... and REALLY COOL TO LEARN ABOUT.