How do you picture the solar system? Most of us imagine the eight planets as colorful balls of varying sizes moving in orbits that comfortably fit within the confines of our computer screens. But is that how it really is? Maybe as a handy reference, but the real place is far different. A new simulator that shrinks the moon to one pixel goes a long to help us appreciate its true vastness.
In my astronomy classes, I try to convey a sense of how small the planets are compared to the abyss of space by playing the “Honey, I shrunk the planets” game. If the sun’s the size of a softball, Earth’s a sphere the size of a grain of salt (~1 mm) 38 feet away. Jupiter’s a little larger than a penny and 200 feet away, and Alpha Centauri, the nearest star beyond the sun, flickers 2,000 miles from home.
OK, that’s not bad, but maybe not visceral enough. Somehow we’d like to feel the distance, sense the emptiness. That’s where the new simulator If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel excels.
Created by Josh Worth, a graphic artist and writer from Los Angeles, the simulator uses a horizontal slider to scroll you from one end of the sun’s neighborhood to the other. You can use the scroll bar at the bottom of the page, your keyboards’ arrow or, if your mouse allows or you’re using a touch pad, move along with repeated flicks of a finger. Planets sizes are based on the moon, which Worth has shrunk down to one pixel.
I found that scrolling from Mercury to Venus to Earth took some time but was hardly taxing. It was traveling to Jupiter that blew me away. Worth entertains along the way with funny tidbits and facts, but I swear the next time I look up at Jupiter I’ll have a better appreciation of how much space separates our two worlds.
Not that you have to scroll, scroll, scroll. Just click on a planet’s icon at the top of the screen and you’ll be whisked there in a jiffy. I suggest you pour a cup and savor the journey.