Sunday, August 09, 2015

Why Space Is Called "Space"

A long time ago in a county far, far away
we built a model of the solar system.

(This was before Pluto was demoted.)

Most models of the solar system put either
~the planets' distances in scale to each other, or
~the planets' size in scale to each other. 
But not both. 

So we went out on an isolated country road, and made ourselves a scale model of the solar system, with the planets' sizes in scale to their distances from each other.  We made 1 inch equal to 50,000 km.  This is awesome.  When you plunk down a couple grains of rice and a few lentils and a marshmallow or two across the space of nearly two miles, you really see why we call it "space."

The next time we laid out our scale model, several years later, I realized that the planets aren't lined up in a nice, neat row.  So our model shouldn't be in a row either.   That time, we placed our planets in two dimensions:  Pluto was about two miles to the west of the sun, Neptune 1.5 miles south of the sun, and Uranus a mile east of our 20" sun.  That really shows you the vast nothingness that's out there.  This project also gives you a really good grip on the difference between the inner and outer planets!

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If you're interested in trying this out yourself,
and if you don't want to bother with the arithmetic,
these are the numbers we used:

Sun  20" diameter
draw it in sidewalk chalk, or use a smallish laundry basket as your model

about 96 feet away
(I took 22 paces, which are about 4.5 feet each, 
calling a "pace" a set of right & left steps, 
but I have long legs)
Mercury   1/10" (we used a crumb of rice)

about 180' from the sun
(another 18 paces)
Venus   1/4"  (we used a dried pea)

about 250' from the sun
(another 15.5 paces)
Earth   1/4"  (dried pea)
with the moon 7" away
1/16"  (a pin head)

about 380 feet from the sun
(another 29 paces past the earth)
Mars    1/7"    (a small lentil)

Then we went back to the sun, and drove,
using the car's odometer to measure distance.
Sun is your zero point.

Jupiter   (3" -- a baseball)
0.25 miles from the sun

Saturn (2.5"  -- a racquetball)
0.2 miles past Jupiter
or .45 from sun

Uranus  (1" -- large marshmallow)
0.45 miles past Saturn
or .9 miles from sun

Neptune (also 1")
0.5 miles past Uranus
or 1.4 miles from the sun

Pluto (1/22 "  -- a pin point)
0.45 miles past Neptune
or 1.85 miles from the sun

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Have fun!

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