Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Distance Scale of the Solar System

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Distance Scale of the Solar System

Article excerpt

Our solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago from a collapsing cloud of gas and dust. It boggles the mind to try to picture how big that nebula really was. There's a lot of empty space out there, and the sizes of the planets vary greatly, as do the distances between the planets and the sun. Making a scale distance model of the solar system is a good way to visualize how vast our solar system and space really is.

An accurate way to build our scale distance model is to shrink the solar system down to the size of a football field, with the sun on our goal line. Two yards on our football field will be equal to the distance between Earth and the sun, 93 million miles, or astronomical unit (AU).

Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, orbits about 35 million miles away. It would lie just less than a yard (0. …

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