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If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel (2014) (joshworth.com)
266 points by matesz on Sept 22, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 108 comments

There's a walk somewhere in the east of Netherland that I did with my kids a while ago, where you walk through a scale representation of the solar system. You start with Pluto (it's an old walk), then walk a very long time before you meet Neptune, then again a very long time before you come across Uranus. That's already a major part of the walk right there. Then the planets start coming quicker, and the last 10 meters or so is the inner solar system. And after that is the radio telescope array at Westerbork.

It really gives a good feel for the massive difference in distances between the inner and outer solar system. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is in that vicinity.

My college had a similar installation, with the inner solar system on the walls of the physics/astronomy building and the other planets scattered about the campus at appropriate distances. But my favorite part was the plaque that said that somewhere in Alaska was the final piece of the installation: a scale model of the nearest star.

For the scale model in Alaska to really sink in for your story, it would have helped to know where your college was located. If your college was in the Yukon would be one thing, but if your college was in Miami that would be totally different.

That might not help without the size of the astronomy building, the size of the models, or how long the walk was to the nearest star.

Here are some approximate dimensions. In Miami the sun would be 9in or 22cm[1], the inner solar system could be depicted on a line 120ft or 35m[2] long, and Pluto would be about 1000yds or 1km[3] away.

Divide by two if the university is in San Francisco, which is about 2000 miles away from Anchorage rather than 4000. Or divide by ten if the university is in Alaska and the nearest star's model is only 400 miles away.

[1] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input?i=4000+miles+*+%28diamete...

[2] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input?i=4000+miles+*+%28orbit+r...

[3] https://www.wolframalpha.com/input?i=4000+miles+*+%28orbit+r...

My town in France has this as a riverside walk, spread over 5 km into the next towns. Well, my hometown has the inner system over a few hundred meters, then it's vast emptyness over the next 5km :)


This site overlays a model of the solar system at the desired scale on the Google Maps location of your choice:


Helps with the planning process for building your own model solar system.

I remember an episode of Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman on PBS where one of the challenges was to build a scale model of the Solar System by placing planets on the sidewalk. The kids had to walk for miles to get it to scale. My at-the-time 12 y/o brain was blown

Caherdaniel, Kerry, Ireland, in a dark sky preserve [1] has a "Walk of the Planets" [2] along the Kerry Way hiking trail where both the planets and distance between them (3.5kms) are to scale. It's a really interesting way to see the relative size of the planets and the distance between them.

[1] - https://www.darksky.org/our-work/conservation/idsp/reserves/... [2] - https://www.caherdanieldarksky.com

Sounds like a scale of 1:1,000,000,000 so the Earth is 150m from the Sun, Mars is 75m further, and Pluto somewhere around 6km. That's the same (mind boggling) scale as our local one - and to complete the picture you can put a toothpick 23.585km from the sun and move it every day 147cm further from the sun. A 20nm fleck on the tip of the toothpick is then Voyager 1 represented on the same scale.

Just want to say that I loved going there as a kid. The distances were very educative. They also had a 1kg (I think) block of iron that you could lift, and you could then try what it'd feel like with the gravitation of the different planets.

There is a similar thing (but at reduced scale) in the "Cité de l'Espace" in Toulouse, France. Just liek this site (old but gold), it really helps you to put things into perspective.

Zagreb has one of these as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Views

Ha no way. My in-laws just moved to Drenthe. I'm definitely going to check this out with the kids, thanks a lot for the tip!

Sweden has a permanent one. The inner planets are in Stockholm while the outer planets are across the rest of Sweden.

There was a touring one that was in Cambridge (UK) recently and we thoroughly enjoyed walking it even if the walk to Pluto was quite far. Walking it in reverse order would have been better, perhaps. Didn't think of that.

There is one in Zurich very similar as well. With the representations of the size of the planets.

Seems there are a whole bunch of them across the planet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_System_model

Largest one being in Sweden, with a scale of 1:20,000,000 (spanning the whole country): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_System_model

In comparison, both the Zurich and Netherlands one are 1:1,000,000,000

That one in Sweden is huge! Country-wide indeed.

There’s quite a few at different scales - in fact I believe the mall in Washington DC has one.

I can imagine that is type of things are the best possible way to visualize the scales that we are living in.

Would love to see something similar for bigger dimensions, e.g. distance to the nearest star, galaxy or exoplanet.

You know what I got the education I got, I memorized that, there was little new information making it a non-planet. You know those same guys call carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen metals? It's a description. In astronomy, metal means anything greater than hydrogen and helium. Every element but the first two. Change of nomenclature, really, and I guess motivated because of seeing other planetary systems.

The entire Solar System is highly aberrant. Single star, instead of binary star. Then, a moon around earth, very large moon, besides, it is the same size in the sky (varying over time) as the sun, leading to different eclipses (like anular eclipses, which accurately measured a biblical event 4000 years ago, to the day, I think it was a Tuesday). Like everything is very unique, apparently.

I strongly recommend clicking the "lightspeed" button in the bottom right at some point.

You thought scrolling was slow? Wait until you experience the solar system at the actual speed of light.

Thanks for pointing that out! Lightspeed is really S---L---O---W isn't it?

I'm pleased he still loves Pluto.

Me too. Pluto will always be a planet to me!

Related: I find it annoying that we went through the trouble of downgrading Pluto, but we still count any rock that orbits a planet as a moon. If planets have 69 moons, then it becomes tedious and I quickly lose interest in learning about them. I wish there was a definition that included our moon (obviously), made sure that Mars has at least one moon, but limited the number of moons that Jupiter and Saturn have to a handful.

Criteria could include: size or weight relative to the planet, distance to the planet, apparent size in the sky.

I had never thought about that. I just googled to find out Jupiter has 79 moons? WTF…

According to this website, there are dozens of "moons" that orbit 10 to 20 million of kilometers away from Jupiter and have diameters between just 1 and 10 km. It's time for a change of nomenclature!


When I was in high school there were about 50 moons in the entire system. There were zero exoplanets now, there’s thousands today.

I'm happy that we're finding ever more exoplanets! I remember, as a kid, that there was speculation as to whether they even existed.

I'm less happy about the moon inflation in our solar system. It's pointless. I honestly find the claim that Jupiter has 79 moons misleading. A 1 km rock orbiting 20 million kilometers away, really? It's so far removed from what our moon is that we should not be using the same word to describe it. It's fine to call it a satellite.

So does Saturn. At least, maybe not exactly the same number, but a number just a large

Either Pluto is a planet and Eris and Haumea and Makemake and Sedna and.... are too or you let go of what they taught you in elementary school and be fine with the dwarf planet designation.

I saw a Twitter post the other day showing the orbit of planets in the solar system that included Ceres. There were tons of replies saying "What's Ceres? Did they discover a new planet?"

People would probably have a better idea about our solar system if we taught them that we don't know how many planets are in the solar system, and told them we were going to have some extra focus on the 8 largest (or 13 largest, or 7, wherever you want to draw the line).

The IAU definition of planet (which wasn't the original proposal, and which most planetary scientists don't seem to follow) appears to be a conservative attempt to keep the number as close to the "traditional" number as possible, even if it leads people into having an overly simplistic conception of our solar system. And it leaves us with a loose definition that specifically states it only applies to our solar system, and doesn't apply anywhere else in the universe.

Wow, that was even more eye opening. I've always tried that website at impossible speed..

Eight and a half minutes to scroll to Earth?

Is it just me or is the speed of light slow? /s

But seriously I always "knew" in the back of my mind that the universe is huge. But to have to wait 8+ minutes to scroll from Sun to Earth at the speed of light gives a new earth-shattering perspective.

What’s really bizarre is from what I understand is those photons spend something between 10,000 and 170,000 years bouncing around colliding with stuff inside the sun. From there it takes a mere 8 minutes to get to earth. [0]

[0] http://www.astronoo.com/en/articles/journey-of-the-photon.ht...

For the photons, any travel is instantaneous, and the Earth is just at the side of the Sun.

And then over 2,000,000 additional minutes to pass the nearest photon-emitting (as opposed to reflecting) object in the best case.

Technical nitpick (but HN loves these) - the gas and ice giant planets do emit photons, in the infrared, where the energy comes from gravitational compression. Neptune in particular emits 2.4x as much energy as it receives from the sun.

Traveling at the sort of speed we can easily imagine as "fast", say 150km/hr, it'd take 115 years.

The fastest travel speed we can really understand is about the speed of sound (jet travel), most westerners have travelled at that speed.

At jet speed it takes best part of a month just to get to the moon, to get to the sun takes 17 years. To reach Neptune you’d have to have left about the same time Columbus visited America.

>The fastest travel speed we can really understand is about the speed of sound (jet travel), most westerners have travelled at that speed.

To be pedantic, no, not really. Commercial jets can travel at speeds up to 955 kilometres per hour (593 mph) (per wikipedia). The speed of sound is roughly 1235 kph (767 mph). Also note that commercial jets usually travel slower than their maximum speed to save fuel.


If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel (2014) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27573172 - June 2021 (69 comments)

If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel (2014) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21735528 - Dec 2019 (82 comments)

If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel – A tediously accurate map of the solar system - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13790954 - March 2017 (81 comments)

If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel – A tediously accurate map of the solar system - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13217129 - Dec 2016 (11 comments)

If the Moon Was Only 1 Pixel - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12038584 - July 2016 (4 comments)

If the moon were only 1 pixel: a scale model of the solar system - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7551423 - April 2014 (17 comments)

If The Moon Was Only 1 Pixel - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7341690 - March 2014 (178 comments)

Pleased to see subjunctive mood winning out for a change!

Lol, "was" versus "were" usage is a pet peeve of mine. Looks like some time im 2016 they got an English major to fix the headline.

Two years of Latin in high school impressed the subjunctive mood onto my brain forever. Now I'm "that guy" occasionally.

As a German speaker "was" is especially awful sounding because we have the exactly analogous "wäre" (conditional, instead of "war" which means "was") which also sounds very similar.

I've had people try to "correct" my use of subjunctive... which truly saps my will to live.

That everything is so empty is the aspect of the universe that I find most surprising.

This also holds for small things like atoms. They are mostly empty space, too. And for bigger things like galaxies.

Most other aspects seem to be "good" choices. Like limiting the speed of things. The way it is limited (as described by special relativity) is even really elegant. The uncertainty as described by quantum theory and how it is coupled to the observer is downright cool. I often think "Yes, if I made a universe from scratch, this seems like a nice choice to go with".

But that everything is so empty? I would not have made that choice, I think.


It may look empty to human eyes but there’s actually a lot going on in “empty space”. Aside from physical objects that are just too small to detect from Earth (small asteroids (some gravitationally bound to the sun, others just passing through), dust, fragments of ancient collisions, gas, isolated molecules, and hydrogen and helium leftover from the formation of the solar system), there is also the ever-blowing solar wind - particles from the sun heading outwards - and a hailstorm of photons emitted from far off sources (other stars and galaxies, nebulae, pulsars, the extreme red-shifted radiation of distant energetic events… and much much more), passing through allowing us to see the rest of the universe. On top of these natural sources of EM radiation, our solar system at least tingles with human-created radio waves. Empty space also vibrates with gravitational waves, which we are only just starting to be able to detect. We theorise that any remaining emptiness might actually be boiling over with the continual creation and destruction of virtual particles. And who knows what’s going on with dark matter?

I think the emptiness of space is an illusion—really, there is a lot going on, in terms of gravitational forces, etc.

Well, if I want my universe to be manageable (don't ask me why), introducing the hierarchy of scales from the beginning is a natural solution.

  > I often think "Yes, if I made a universe from scratch, this seems like
  > a nice choice to go with".
One interpretation of that thought: All the universes that were not so elegant, collapsed quickly or did not develop life, or did not develop life as complex as us. We are here, living and complex, in _this_ universe because _this_ universe is so elegant.

> This also holds for small things like atoms. They are mostly empty space, too

Not quite so simple, see: https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/126512/why-doesn...

Too much stuff you just end up with a big black hole, perhaps?

Mass is energy, localised in space-time, thats why space mostly empty, but mot completly emty, not 0 Kelvin.

For a site whose UX relies on scrolling, that's a horribly done scroll

For those who do not want to scroll, here’s an absolutely brilliant video illustrating the scale:


That is indeed beautiful video!

There's a "light speed" button at the bottom (only worked when I disabled anti tracker mode in my browser) that will scroll for you at the equivalent of light speed. No tired fingers!

The downside is that you'll be waiting 4:47:50.88 to reach Pluto.

Alternatively, there's a planet browser on the top, but that kind of "cheating" kind of diminishes the point of the website.

Personally, I would've liked the website to scroll vertically instead. Shift+scroll isn't difficult, but it's a trick many people don't know about so relying on it (or on a touch screen, or a scroll bar at the bottom that completely defeats the sense of scale that scrolling leaves behind) is a bit annoying.

Tip: Get a mouse with a free-spinning wheel like the Logitech MX Anywhere 2s. The difference is analogous to using SSD vs. HDD.

A tip - hold down the middle mouse button down and move your mouse around. It's scroll speed is variable dependent on how far your mouse is away from the origin point, so it's quite useful.

You can clear the entire screen in around 15 seconds if you go max speed!

For Linux users, browsers disable this behavior by default because it interacts weirdly with middle click paste. To enable on Firefox) search "autoscroll" in settings, Chrome) run with `--enable-blink-features=MiddleClickAutoscroll` (also there's an extension for it if anyone finds the message shown at start annoying).

You can use arrow keys as well, really convenient.

Forces me to scroll half a physical meter per 20 sun diameters on my mouse wheel. Aborted.

That is part of the art. Planet hopping is not considered convenient. Would be worse if you had to follow the rockets path!

To specify: Aborted due to pain in my right hand while scrolling. I did get a CT scan of that hand due to a sporting accident, though, and it got better a few weeks later.

Also, my OS usually allows me to change line skips per mouse wheel increment to three quarters of a page. That does not seem to work here.

Agreed, my other mouse is free-scrolling, it would be fun to scroll huge distances (IN SPACE!) there.

I initially found none of the helpers that scroll somewhere, but thanks for all the tips here and in other replies.

The planets are clickable on top ..

In Sweden, there is a scale replica of the solar system, with correct distances. The sun is represented by the Avicii Arena, the world's largest spherical building. http://www.swedensolarsystem.se/

FYI you can use the buttons in the top to not have to scroll like a maniac.

This solar system was on ycombinator 27-ish times before: https://news.ycombinator.com/from?site=joshworth.com

Interesting. Shouldn't there be an autoredirect to the existing thread on submit?

Maybe if it was recently resubmitted and already had a discussion (usually a mod will mark the newer as dupe) or recently submitted multiple times without getting attention (since at this point it becomes spam). But if recent submission was long time ago (so older thread is basically archived), it makes sense to be submitted anew.

If t < x, yes

"Funny" thing is that an user has submitted it (at least) twice

I did a spreadsheet some time ago with the appropriate proportions, taking the data from the NASA website, just for fun, thinking about how big the solar system would be if the sun would be like a 60cm diameter (big) beach balloon.

My results:

Mercury: 26m away, pinhead alike.

Venus: 49m away, pea alike.

Earth: 67m away, pea alike (again).

Mars: 103m away, small lentil alike.

Jupiter: 350m away, tennis ball alike.

Saturn: 645m away, golf ball alike.

Uranus: 1,3km~ away, 2€ coin alike.

Neptune: 2km~ away, 1€ coin alike.

PS. Forgot the most impressive info by far... in that "beach ballon=star" scale, our closest star neighbor is almost 7,000kms away!

FYI there is an icon on the bottom right corner, which makes scroll automatic with the speed of light to scale.

Please note that if you want to read all of the blurbs of text visible between the planets, you need only to view the source of the page. They're just divs, and it saves you a large amount of scrolling.

Space is big. Space is empty. We are nothing to space.

HTML introduces content.

CSS introduces space.

JavaScript introduces waiting.

Seems appropriate that the technology represents itself on this page.

the author seems not to have kids; 'When are we gonna be there?' should be the much terse 'Are we there yet?' :)

There's an irl version of this built along a canal in Somerset, UK.


Interesting that this has its own Wikipedia page, but the Dutch Melkwegpad does not.

(Edit: turns out there's a ton of these, and while most don't have their own page, there's a page collecting them all: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_System_model)

You could quibble about the scrolling animation finesse but it is a nicely designed site and is a great use of horizontal scrolling. Plus, always nice to see astronomy content on Hacker News (even if it's been posted a few times before). Some of Josh's other work is also interesting in terms of web design and STEM subjects, like this Max Planck Institute page: <https://scattering-amplitudes.mpp.mpg.de/welcome>.

Boston had a Community Solar System Trail, where both the size of the planets and the distance between them were to the same scale. The sun was 11.6 ft at the Museum of Science. Mercury and Venus were in the building. Mars was in the Cambridgeside Galleria, a few blocks away. Uranus was in a different neighborhood, Jamaica Plain.

It was featured on an episode of the kids TV show Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman.

What’s wild about this is trying to imagine those scales when you remember how absolutely huge the earth is relative to each of us.

If you haven’t done this before, go out into the desert or canyons or the Hoover dam (in the U.S.) and experience viscerally how tiny each of us is relative to nature.

Trying to hold that in my mind while also conceptualizing the distance to Mars, or the size of the sun … I can’t do it!

What I love about that site when you combine it with 1 pixel = 3478 km.

If you drove 88km an hour it would take you almost 40 hours to drive across 1 pixel!

Our solar system is big big big.

I used to do the math with my kids when they were young and first found out about division. My story would be lets drive to the moon. And then we would figure out how far it was and how fast we could drive.

I love that site.

The "Pretty empty out here" made me laugh. And the "you are here".

“Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is” ― Douglas Adams

Is cool that it's done in SVG. Here's Earth:

    <circle cx="5" cy="5" r="5"></circle>

For visualizing the timescales, there’s a great app. Walk 4.6 km through 4.6 billion years of time.


How does the browser actually render a page this wide?

Is there a framebuffer containing the whole page, or is it a display list of vector objects that gets clipped by the page's bounding box?

On which platforms would this page cause the browser to run out of memory and crash?

"Might as well stop now. We'll need to scroll through 6,771 more maps like this before we see anything else." pfff, only took like a second. I would have gone the other 6,771 more maps to see whats out there.

There's an irl version of this built along a canal in Somerset, UK.


Funny you should mention that - I actually ran into another in-proportion solar system park model in Eugene, Oregon, USA: https://eugenesciencecenter.org/exhibits/eugene-solar-system...

I really enjoyed that!

I liked the philosophical musings on the theme of "nothing."

This was my fave:

> It seems like we are both pathetically insignificant, and miraculously important at the same time.

"The Moon diameter (approximately equal to the distance from New York to Las Vegas)"

Imagine how glorious and huge the Earth must look like from the Moon.

And how gloriously dumb human kind looks like considering we are fighting petty wars over resources we could get from space in unlimited amounts.

No need to imagine, have a look at


and https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_6...

I would have linked to the 'Blue Marble' picture but that was taken mid-flight rather than from the moon itself.

The photo doesn't do it justice tho. Just like a photo of the full Moon low on the horizon doesn't look anywhere close to what my eyes are seeing. Now imagine a full moon, with a diameter roughly 4 times as big, that's how big the Earth is looking back from the moon. North America itself is the size of the full moon. Pretty wild to think about.

I do wish that this contained Voyager data - if for no other reason than to show just how far out "we" have actually gone.

A very science question as I finally arrive at Jupiter.. Is it possible that at one point, Jupiter was actually a sun?

Wow that was really epic! What an excellent presentation of size and distance. Beautiful work!

I'm confused

If the moon is a single pixel, how is it shown as a half moon

Shouldn't it be a single dot/pixel?

If it’s a half moon we’ll need sub-pixel rendering.

Scrolling and waiting for the first galaxy light-years away to show up: Mercury. What?

Just from the size of the scroll bar you can get a feeling of the size of this map.

Do one for hydrogen/helium atoms and a side by side comparison. Please.

this is cool!

I wish we could see yet another live indicator on that map, a speed indicator of our scrolling in actual mph, km/h, AU, parsec, and speed of light.

this way we can see the speed of our scrolling!!

If you scrolled to Earth in less that eight and a half minutes, then you were already breaking the speed of light.

and to think you can go out in space and hit a planet or something by mistake, you know.... like kids do when walking on the sidewalk?

a f*ing amazing design

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