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A Sense of Proportion

January 21, 2010

OK, so we all know our solar system is big, but I don’t think people grasp how truly, amazingly, mind-blowing-ly big. Here’s a fun little exercise called The Earth as a Peppercorn from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory folks. You can make a scale model of the solar system in your own backyard neighborhood. (Did I mention? — BIG!).

Adler Planetarium, Chicago

Model solar system at Adler Planetarium, Chicago. You can see Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus at the top. The large yellow object behind the people represents the sun. The Earth (not visible) is about the size of a grapefruit.

All you need are a few simple materials (starting with a bowling ball or soccer ball) and some walking shoes. Print out the instructions, take your kids (or yourself) out and set up this model. Tonight!! And then step back and think. . . this solar system is just a tiny speck in our Milky Way galaxy, which is absolutely nothing compared to the size of the entire universe. It’s almost as good as having your own Total Perspective Vortex.

P.S. This is an old copy, so it still acknowledges Pluto as a planet. You’re free to do as you please and leave it out, but I’d keep it, just for old times’ sake. Remind me some day to explain why astronomers still love Pluto, just in a different way.

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