Astronomy:Solar System model

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Short description: Illustrates relative position of Sun and planets
A 1766 Benjamin Martin mechanical model, or orrery, on display at the Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments

Solar System models, especially mechanical models, called orreries, that illustrate the relative positions and motions of the planets and moons in the Solar System have been built for centuries. While they often showed relative sizes, these models were usually not built to scale. The enormous ratio of interplanetary distances to planetary diameters makes constructing a scale model of the Solar System a challenging task. As one example of the difficulty, the distance between the Earth and the Sun is almost 12,000 times the diameter of the Earth.

If the smaller planets are to be easily visible to the naked eye, large outdoor spaces are generally necessary, as is some means for highlighting objects that might otherwise not be noticed from a distance. The Boston Museum of Science has placed bronze models of the planets in major public buildings, all on similar stands with interpretive labels.[1] For example, the model of Jupiter is located in the cavernous South Station waiting area. The properly-scaled, basket-ball-sized model is 1.3 miles (2.14 km) from the model Sun which is located at the museum, graphically illustrating the immense empty space in the Solar System.

The objects in such large models do not move. Traditional orreries often did move, and some used clockworks to display the relative speeds of objects accurately. These can be thought of as being correctly scaled in time, instead of distance.

Permanent true scale models

Many towns and institutions have built outdoor scale models of the Solar System. Here is a table comparing these models with the actual system.

Name Location Scale Sun dia. Earth dia. Sun–Earth Sun–Pluto Description
Actual Solar System 1:1 1.392 Gm 12.76 Mm 149.6 Gm 5.914 Tm
Sweden Solar System  Sweden 1:20,000,000 71 m 65 cm 7,600 m 300 km permanent; country-wide (begun 1998)
Solar System Drive Australia Coonabarabran, Australia 1:38,000,000 37 m 34 cm 4,100 m 205 km permanent; drivable (est. 1997)
Maine Solar System United States University of Maine 1:93,000,000 15 m 13.7 cm 1,600 m 64 km permanent; drivable (est.2003)
Mont Megantic Dark Sky Reserve Great Solar System Canada Parc national du Mont-Mégantic 1:100,000,000 14 m 12.4 m 1,450 m 57 km permanent; drivable (est.2018)
Riverfront Museum Solar System United States Peoria, Illinois 1:125,000,000 11 m 10.0 cm 1,200 m 47 km permanent; drivable (est. 1992?)
Vienna Solar System Austria Vienna, Austria 1:163,764,706 8.5 m 7.78 cm 913 m 36 km under construction since 2018. Physical + Augmented Reality
Planet Lofoten Norway Lofoten, Norway 1:200,000,000 7 m ? ? 30 km under construction
Planet Trek Dane County United States Madison, Wisconsin 1:200,000,000 7 m 6.6 cm 777 m 38.3 km permanent; fully accessible by foot and bike paths (est. 2009)
Sunspot Solar System Model United States Sunspot, New Mexico 1:250,000,000 5.6 m 5.1 cm 1.5 m 23,6 km permanent, drivable
El Sistema Solar de la comarca de Ciudad Rodrigo Spain Ciudad Rodrigo Spain 1:290,000.000 4.8m 4.4 cm 1.2 M 25 km permanent, Walk & Drive
If the Earth were a Ping-Pong ball United Kingdom Westminster, London 1:318,905,000 4.36 m 4 cm ? ? In construction; Walk & Drive (est. 2018) Centered around Deans Yard, Westminster
Light Speed Planet Walk United States Anchorage, Alaska 1:350,000,000 ? ? 16.6 km permanent; drivable (est. 2005)
Moab's Scale Model of the Solar System United States Moab, Utah 1:400,000,000 3.6 m ? ? 15.3 km permanent; Walk and Drive (est. 2007)
Community Solar System Trail United States Boston, Massachusetts 1:400,000,000 3.5 m 3.2 cm 380 m 15.3 km permanent; drivable
The Solar System to Scale Portugal Estremoz, Portugal 1:414,000,000 3.4 m 3.1 cm 361 m 14.3 km permanent; drivable; bikeable
Somerset Space Walk United Kingdom Bridgwater Canal, Somerset UK 1:530,000,000 2.5 m ? cm ? m 11 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1997)
York’s Solar System model United Kingdom York, England 1:575,872,239 2.4 m 2.2 cm 260 m 10.3 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1999)
Traverse Bay Community Solar System United States Traverse City, Michigan 1:592,763,356 0.9 m 0.9 m 209 m 10.0 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2004)
Michigan Solar System Model United States Coleman, Michigan 1:608,000,000 2.3 m 2.1 cm 324 m 9.8 km permanent; bike trail Sun and Pls. Spheres (2017)
Nine Views Croatia Zagreb, Croatia 1:680,000,000 2.0 m 1.9 cm 225 m 8.7 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2004)
Walk the Solar System Canada Fort St. John, British Columbia, Canada 1:682,353,000 2.0 m 1.9 cm 219 m 8.6 km under construction
McCarthy Observatory United States New Milford, Connecticut 1:761,155,000 1.8 m 1.7 cm 195 m 7.1 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2009)
Planet Walk United States Glen Burnie, Maryland. 1:781,000,000 ? ? 191.5 m 7.56 km Walkable, bikeable (est. 2008). Part of the permanent Baltimore & Annapolis Trail.
Trilho do Sistema Solar Portugal Paredes de Coura, Portugal 1:831,000,000 1.675 m 1.533 cm 180 m 5.42 km (Neptune) permanent; walkable; bikeable (est. 2016)
Planetenpad Utrecht Netherlands Utrecht, Netherlands 1:1,000,000,000 1.3 m 1.3 cm 150 m 7.4 km (Neptune) Leads from Centre Utrecht to Rhijnauwen, on foot, on bike or on kayak
Model of the Solar System Finland Helsinki, Finland 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.2 cm 149.6 m 6.1 km permanent; bikeable
Planetenmodell Hagen Germany Hagen, Germany 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1959)
Planetenweg Schwarzbach Germany Kriftel, Germany 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1998)
Uetliberg Planetenweg Switzerland Zurich, Switzerland 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable
Planetenwanderweg Germany Ehrenfriedersdorf, Germany 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable
Solar System Czech Republic Opava, Czech Republic 1:627,000,000 2.2 m 2.0 cm 239 m 9.42 km permanent; bikeable; walkable; drivable (est. 2006)
Planetary Trail Czech Republic Hradec Králové, Czech Republic 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2005)
Planetary Trail Czech Republic Prague, Czech Republic 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 13 km (Sedna as discovered) (Pluto 5.9 km) permanent; bike & walk; all objects above 1000km; (est. 13.5.2018)
Melbourne Solar System Australia Melbourne, Australia 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 2008)
Scale Model Solar System United States Eugene, Oregon 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.2 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; bikeable (est. 1997)
Planetstien, Sandnes Norway Sandnes, Norway 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.2 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; walkable, bikeable (est. 2010)
Planetstien, Lemvig Denmark Lemvig, Denmark 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.2 cm 150 m 5.9 km permanent; walkable
Planet Walk Germany Munich, Germany 1:1,290,000,000 1.1 m 1.0 cm 116 m 4.6 km permanent; walkable (est. 1995)
Strolling at the speed of light Canada La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada 1:1,500,000,000 0.9 m 0.8 cm 100 m 3 km (Neptune) permanent; walkable (est. 2009) (temp?)
Rymdpromenaden ("Spacewalk") Sweden Gothenburg, Sweden 1:2,000,000,000 0.7 m 0.6 cm 75 m 3 km permanent; walkable (est. 1978)
Akaa Solar System Scale Model Finland Akaa, Finland 1:3,000,000,000 0.46 m 0.4 cm 49.9 m 1,958 m permanent; walkable (est. 2017), Proxima Centauri in Yulara, Australia
Elmhurst Scale Model of the Solar System United States Elmhurst, Illinois 1:3,044,620,000 0.5 m 0.4 cm 49.1 m 1,929 m permanent; walk & drive (est. 2013)
Wooster Planet Walk United States Wooster, Ohio 1:5,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 30 m 1.2 km permanent; walkable (est. 2014)
Meteoria Söderfjärden Finland Vaasa, Finland 1:2,000,000,000 0.7 m permanent; walkable
Planetenweg Göttingen Germany Göttingen, Germany 1:2,000,000,000 0.70 m 0.65 cm 75 m 3.2 km permanent; walkable/bikeable (est. 2013)
Solar System Walking Tour United States Gainesville, Georgia 1:2,000,000,000 0.7 m 0.6 cm 75 m 2.9 km permanent; walkable (est. 2000)
Montshire Museum of Science United States Norwich, Vermont 1:2,200,000,000 0.6 m 0.6 cm 68 m 2.7 km permanent; walkable
Ride to Pluto: Boise's Solar System United States Boise Greenbelt, Boise, Idaho 1:2,200,000,000 0.5 m n/a 2.4 km permanent; walkable & bikeable;
The Solar walk United States Longview, Washington (state) 1:? 0.6 m 0.6 cm ? m 2.7 km permanent; walkable (est. 2001)
Milky Way path Netherlands Westerbork, The Netherlands 1:3,700,000,000 ? ? ? 2.5 km permanent; walkable
Solar Walk United States Gainesville, Florida 1:4,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 37.4 m 1.5 km permanent; walkable (est. 2002)
Otford Solar System Model United Kingdom Otford, England 1:4,595,700,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 32 m 0.9 km permanent; walkable
The Sagan Planet Walk United States Ithaca, New York 1:5,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 30 m 1.2 km permanent; walkable (est. 1997)
Delmar Loop Planet Walk United States University City, Missouri 1:5,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.2 cm 30 m 0.87 km (Neptune) permanent; walkable (est. 2009)
The Solar Walk United States Cleveland, Ohio 1:5,280,000,000 0.3 m 0.2 cm 28.4 m 1.1 km permanent; walkable
Solar System Walk

An Exploration of Scale

United States Carlsbad, California 1:5,280,000,000 28 m 1,119 m Located near Lake Calavera [Trailhead]
O Sistema Solar no Parque Brazil Natal, Brazil 1:7,000,000,000 20 cm 1.8 mm 22 m 875 m permanent; walkable/bikeable (est. June 3rd, 2016)
Voyage United States National Mall, Washington, D.C. (2001)

Kansas City, Missouri(2008)}}[lower-alpha 1]
Space Center Houston, Texas (2008)
Corpus Christi, Texas (2009)

1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km
NJ Botanical Garden United States Ringwood, New Jersey 1:10,000,000,000 0.2 m 2.0 cm 23.8 m 927 m walkable
Colorado Scale Model Solar System United States Fiske Planetarium, Boulder, Colorado 1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km permanent; walkable (est. 1987)
Anstruther Model Solar System United Kingdom Anstruther, Scotland 1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km permanent; walkable (est. 2014)
Le Chemin Solaire France La Couyère, Brittany 1:10,000,000,000 1 m 0.1 cm - 0.45 km permanent; walkable (est. 2011)
Solar Walk UofT Scarborough Canada Toronto, Ontario and Eureka, Nunavut 1:10,000,000,000 0.14 m 0.13 cm 15 m 0.591 km permanent; walkable/bikeable (est. 2017)
Grand Trunk Pathway Solar System Model Canada Terrace, British Columbia 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 6 km permanent; walkable/bikeable (est. 2018)
State of the Solar System United States Bellingham, Washington (state) 1:1,826,770,000 0.762 m 0.6858 cm 82 m ? permanent; walkable (est. 2016)
MIT's Infinite Solar System United States Cambridge, Massachusetts 1:30,000,000,000 4.6 cm 0.43 mm 5.0 m 200 m permanent; walkable (est. 2018); along "Infinite Corridor"

Other models of the Solar System: historic, temporary, virtual, or dual-scale

Name Location Scale Sun dia. Earth dia. Sun-Earth Sun-Pluto Description
Kirkhill model 1776[lower-alpha 2] Scotland Scotland 1:778,268,620.8 1.8 m 1.6 cm 197 m - decayed
Planetenpad Utrecht Netherlands Utrecht, Netherlands 1:1,000,000,000 1.3 m 1.3 cm 150 m 7.4 km (Neptune) Leads from Centre Utrecht to Rhijnauwen, on foot, on bike or on kayak
Sorghvliet Netherlands The Hague, Netherlands 1:696,000,000 2.0 m 1.8 cm 215 m 6.5 km (Neptune) (temporary)
Sol Chicago United States Illinois, Chicago 1:73,660,000 19 m 17.3 cm 2,050 m 61 km (Neptune) (temporary) proposed
Le Chemin des planètes Switzerland Saint-Luc, Switzerland 1:1,000,000,000 1.4 m 1.3 cm 150 m 5.9 km uses two different scales for distance and size
The Madison Planet Stroll United States Madison, Wisconsin 1:4,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 37 m 1.5 km (virtual)
Solar System Stroll Australia Perth, Western Australia 1:5,000,000,000 0.3 m 0.3 cm 30 m 1.2 km permanent; walkable (est. 2016)
The Thousand-Yard Model (virtual) 1:6,336,000,000 0.2 m 0.2 cm 25 m 1 km (virtual)
(dismantled) Canada Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Quebec 1:10,000,000,000 0.1 m 0.1 cm 15 m 0.6 km (dismantled) (est. 1985)
Lafayette Walk United States Detroit, Michigan 1:6,336,000,000 23 cm 0.2 cm 25 m 983 m A Walking Demonstration of (un)imaginable distances. "It's nowhere near Graham's Number."
Planets on the Path United States Chicago , Illinois 1:2,195,000,000 457 m 11.4 m (2015, temporary)
The Solar System, to scale, for a school yard PDF for printing 1:11,945,400,000 11.6 cm 0.1 cm 12.5 m 492 m PDFs, A4 and 8½″×11″, to be printed, affixed to cards which are affixed to sticks; then to be held by children standing in a school yard. Includes major moons and asteroids.
Naas Virtual Solar System
Republic of Ireland Flag.svg
Naas, Ireland
1 : 154,557,330 9 m 82 mm 968 m 29 km (Neptune) In Ireland, this instantly recognisable roadside spherical sculpture is known to all, and is used as the model for the Sun. The website maps out the planetary orbits and shows everyday objects to scale the planets (e.g. a golf ball for Mars)

Several sets of geocaching caches have been laid out as Solar System models.

A model based on a classroom globe

If the Earth were reduced to the size of a typical classroom globe, 41 cm (16 inches) in diameter, the Moon would be a 10 cm (4 in) baseball floating 12 metres (40 feet) away. The Sun would be 14 stories tall (somewhat smaller than the Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot) floating 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) away. While a complete model to this scale has never been built, a Solar System built centered in Washington DC, London, or Sydney, to that scale (approximately 1:31 000 000) would look like this:

Body Diameter Object comparison Semi-major axis Scale model location (U.S.) Scale model location (U.K.) Scale model location (Australia)
Sun 44.6 m (146 ft) 14 story tall sphere, Spaceship Earth (Epcot) zero White House, Washington DC Buckingham Palace Sydney Opera House
Mercury 15 cm (6 in) large grapefruit 1.9 km (1.2 mi) National Air and Space Museum Covent Garden Elizabeth Bay
Venus 38 cm (15 in) beach ball 3.5 km (2.2 mi) John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame, Arlington National Cemetery Regent's Park Sydney Football Stadium
Earth 41 cm (16 in) classroom globe 4.8 km (3.0 mi) Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Tower of London Rozelle Hospital
Moon 10 cm (4 in) baseball 12 m (40 ft) from Earth
Mars 23 cm (9 in) dodgeball 7.2 km (4.5 mi) Rock Creek Park Golf Course King's College London Bondi Beach
Ceres 3 cm (1 in) golf ball 13.3 km (8.3 mi) West Falls Church Metro station London City Airport Macquarie University
Jupiter 4.55 m (15 ft) Commercial van 24.9 km (15.5 mi) George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia Heathrow Airport Scotland Island
Saturn 3.81 m (12 ft 6 in) Roundabout (merry-go-round) 45.5 km (28.3 mi) Marine Corps Base Quantico, Triangle, Virginia Luton Copacabana
Uranus 1.63 m (5 ft 4 in) average 8th grade boy 92.2 km (57.3 mi) Aberdeen Proving Ground, Aberdeen, Maryland Waterlooville Bombo
Neptune 1.55 m (5 ft 1 in) average 6th grade boy 144.4 km (89.7 mi) Newark, Delaware Leicester Nelson Bay
Pluto 7 cm (3 in) baseball 190 km (118 mi) Wildwood, New Jersey Hereford Bulahdelah
Eris 8 cm (3 in) baseball 325 km (202 mi) Brooklyn, New York Blackpool Port Macquarie
Heliopause 571 km (355 mi) Toronto, Ontario, Canada Stirling, Scotland Cobar, New South Wales
α Centauri A 49.5 m (162 ft) Spaceship Earth (Epcot) 1,323,500 km (822,400 mi) over 3 times the distance to the Moon over 3 times the distance to the Moon over 3 times the distance to the Moon

If the scale of the above model is increased to 1:310 000 000, i.e. all distances and sizes reduced by a factor of 10, then the Earth and Venus can be modeled by ping pong balls, the Moon and smaller planets by various size marbles or lumps of modeling clay, the gas giants by balloons or larger playing balls, and a circle the diameter of the Sun can be drawn on the floor of most classrooms. The scale distance to Alpha Centauri would be 1/3 of the way to the Moon.

Some planetaria and related museums often use a scale model of the Solar System featuring a planetarium dome representing the Sun. Examples of this can be seen in planetaria like the Adler Planetarium, the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, the Clark Planetarium, the Griffith Observatory, the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum, the Adventure Science Center, etc.

A commonly-portrayed scale model of the Solar System would use fruits of varying sizes to represent the planets: The Sun would be represented by an adult human, Mercury would be represented by a pea, Venus by a cherry or a grape, Earth by a strawberry or an apricot, the Moon by a peppercorn, Mars by a blueberry, Jupiter by a watermelon or a medium-sized pumpkin, Saturn by a grapefruit or a large melon like a cantaloupe or a honeydew, Uranus by an apple or an orange, and Neptune by a lime or a plum.

See also


  1. Power & Light District to Union Station
  2. Possibly the first accurate scale model after the measurement of the astronomical unit in 1769.

External links