Here Is How Big Our Solar System Really Is!

The solar system we live in is enormous. There is plenty of space separating planets from each other. Voyager 1 is the most distant human-made object, and it left Earth more than 40 years ago and still is under the influence of our Sun.

Official data reports that, as of February 1, 2020, Voyager 1 is about 13.8 billion miles (the equivalent of 22.2 billion kilometers) from the Sun. For comparison, the average distance between the Sun and Pluto is approximately four times smaller. 

Scaling down dimensions

Astronomical distances, when expressed in more traditional units like meters or feet, take a whole lot of time to be written and processed. Hence, the invention of the Astronomical Unit (AU) happened. An Astronomical Unit is equal to about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers), and it is the approximative distance between the Sun and Earth. According to NASA, a regular airliner would require over 20 years to fly that distance traveling at about 400 mph (644 kph).

To understand the real proportions of our solar system, let’s imagine that it is the size of an American football field. Therefore, if the Sun were about the size of a dime on the goal line, Neptune would be located about 60 yards away.

At this scale, the Sun – by far the largest celestial body in our solar system – is best represented by a ball about two-thirds of an inch (17 millimeters) wide sitting on the goal line. 

Earth, Mars, Venus, and Mercury are comparable to the size of sand grains (at the football field scale). The typical flea is roughly 3 millimeters long, a true giant compared to a grain of sand. 

Positioning 

Mercury would be the closest to the goal line, less than a yard away from the end zone (0.8 yards). The real-life distance between Mercury and the Sun is 35 million miles or 0.4 AU. However, on the football-field scale, the diameter of Mercury would barely be equal to the tip of a needle. 

The next planet is Venus, placed at 1.4 yards from the end zone. The real average distance from Venus to the Sun is about 67 million miles or 0.7 AU. On the football-field scale, that distance equals 0.15 millimeters. 

Earth is next, sitting nice and steady on the 2-yard line. It is marginally larger than Venus at roughly 0.16 millimeters. 

Earth’s distance from the Sun results in many benefits for the planet. It’s placed just right for life to flourish – not too hot, not too cold, just perfect!

Some scientists call the region of space where Earth is located the “Goldilocks Zone” because it seems to be ideal for life. As previously mentioned, the average distance between the Sun and Earth is about 93 million miles or 1 AU.

Next is Mars, placed on the three-yard line of the football field. The planet is about 1.5 AU from the Sun and about 0.08 millimeters in diameter. 

Most of the asteroids of our solar system are located within the central asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, ranging from 2 to 4 AU from the Sun. On the hypothetical football-field, that translates to the segmented delimited by the four and eight-yard lines. 

Fun fact – The total mass of all the known asteroids in our solar system is less than 10% the mass of Earth’s moon.

Jupiter is very close to the end zone on the 10.5-yard line. Jupiter, the biggest planet of our solar system is, on average, about 5.2 AU away from the Sun. Scaled-down, Jupiter is approximately the thickness of a U.S. quarter in width.

Saturn is far away from the Sun, at 19 yards from the goal line. The ringed planet is 9.5 AU from the Sun, and scaled-down it is 1.47 millimeters wide. 

Uranus, the gas giant, is approximately 38 yards from the end zone. In real life, it is placed 19AU from the Sun, which is very far away. The considerable distance between Uranus and Earth is the reason why a single spacecraft managed to visit it. Scaled-down, the planet is equal to 0.62 millimeters, comparable to the size of the letter “R” in the word “TRUST” on a penny.

Neptune is where things start to get far away – It’s located 60 yards away from the solar goal line on the hypothetical football field and about 0.6 millimeters. Neptune is, on average, 30 AU from the Sun.

Pluto is close to the opposing team’s end zone. It is about 79 yards away from the Sun. In real life, Pluto is 39.5 AU from the Sun. 

On this scale, good old Voyager 1 can be seen in the stadium parking lot (or even further beyond). It is traveling away from the Sun at the approximate speed of 3.5 AU per year.

This comparison provides some insight regarding how small we are in comparison to the humongous size of the universe we live in. Science is beautiful. 

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