The solar system is all wrong. At least our perception of it is.
“Every picture we ever encounter of the solar system is not to scale,” explains Wylie Overstreet. “The only way to see a scale model of the solar system is to build one.” So he and a group of friends set out to do just that, filming a time-lapse video in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
Images of the solar system always place the sun and the Earth right next to each other, but in reality, they are quite far away. As a matter of fact, if you were to draw the orbits in proper scale on a regular sized notebook paper, the planets would have to be so microscopically small that you couldn’t see them. And if you were to shrink the earth down to a small marble and stay true to the scale model, then the whole solar system would be seven miles wide. In this model, Jupiter would be the size of a watermelon and the sun a small weather balloon (1.5 meters).
In this aerial photograph, the sun at the center of this newly constructed solar system is about 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide. Mercury sits 224 feet (68 m) away from our star, while Venus, Earth and Mars lie 447 feet (120 m), 579 feet (176 m) and 881 (269 m) from the sun, respectively.
Overstreet and his crew of five pack up their gear and head to the desert where they trace out the planets’ orbits, garnering a lot of attention on the To Scale Series Facebook page and YouTube. They shot the entire thing in 36 hours, measuring out the long, looping drives in cloudy and cold weather. When thick darkness spread across the playa, they drove each orbit with a light to show how big they really were.
Success! The real sun and the model sun are the same size.
For the finale one of the crew members holds up the model of the sun, which is the 1.5m balloon, to the east during a dramatic desert sunrise. Overstreet explains that if they’ve made their model correctly, then our perspective from where Earth is on the model will match our perspective from standing on “real” Earth.
I chose the following traits from Jason Ohler’s storytelling rubric to demonstrate how well the filmmakers constructed a cohesive storyline and conveyed their mission per the media tools used. They have stated that, “We all hope that it inspires thought and reflection — thought about science, about humanity, about our position in the galaxy and universe.”
This is a simple and eloquent explanation of the scale of the solar system. I was transported back to 8th grade science and Mr. Roberts explaining this idea to us. I wasn’t quite sure of it then, but it all became clear to me now the massiveness of our planetary neighborhood. This video also made me think how kids can use tools today to explain science concepts, or almost anything. It’s a great way to learn and share knowledge with others.
Want more? Watch how the filmmakers pulled this project together in Making the Solar System.