Science-crazy lads build a model of the solar system in the desert

This lovely seven-minute video was called to my notice by reader Peter, and I don’t think I’ve posted it before. It shows a group of ambitious lads making a scale model of the solar system in the desert. The YouTube notes claim that this is “the first scale model of the solar system with complete planetary orbits.”

The location is the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, and they start with a Sun 1.5 meters in diameter: you’ll see why they chose that size. They then fix the planets, marked with correctly-sized lights, at the appropriate distance from the Sun. At the end, they find Neptune’s orbit (the bastards didn’t count Pluto as a planet!) to be 5.6 km away, and they check their calculations by observing the real Sun compared to the  model Sun while standing at an Earth-distance away.

Be sure you watch the bit beginning at 5:30, as there are some special visitors with some special words.



  1. nwalsh
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I believe this was shown previously on Nova.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Can someone put a pic of it up here or somewhere – I can’t pore over the video – I skimmed it and still couldn’t see it….

  3. Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    There’s also the Sweden Solar System, a much (much) larger installation:

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:44 am | Permalink

      There is a >1 km scale model along the access road to the Effelsberg 100 m radio telescope, near Bad Münstereifel. The planets are circles on metal plaques along the road. I think it was made in the late 1970s.

  4. Ken Phelps
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    You’re worried about Pluto? I’m shocked at the lack of a firmament, *and* the waters above it!

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Are you a firmanentalist??

  5. bja009
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    You may be interested in a similar video exploring how close the nearest stars are:

  6. Zach
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

    —Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  7. Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink


  8. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    There appear to have been 4 different definitions of planet over time, and at this point Pluto is a “dwarf planet”, a term adopted in 2006 which is not especially related to a “dwarf star”.

    In ancient times, a planet was any object whose movement was not synchronized with the stars.

    Fortunately, planets do not attend Evergreen or other overly PC universities, or we would have no end of planetary identity politics. 🙂

  9. John Taylor
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I knew I had seen that video somewhere. I wonder where???

    • rickflick
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      I don’t mind checking it out again.

      • Mark R.
        Posted July 18, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I recognized it from WEIT (didn’t know it was from 2015!). That’s probably why I didn’t mind checking it out again. Details get fuzzy after 2 years.

  10. DrBrydon
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Wait, isn’t the Earth at the middle? Just kidding. Cool stuff.

  11. rickflick
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    It’s a wicked-crazy idea and it works well to give a sense of proportion and perspective.

    I would like to have seen them take a high speed drone at an altitude of about 300 feet on a trajectory from Neptune to the sun.

  12. KD33
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    The Sagan Planet Walk in Ithaca, New York does the same thing with a sun ~10 inches in diameter and Pluto about a km Away.

  13. Posted July 18, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Boy, even all those astronauts are in on the spherical Earth conspiracy!

  14. Posted July 18, 2017 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    In the video they placed Earth 176 metres from the Sun. On that scale, the next nearest star system – Alpha Centauri would have to be placed nearly 50,000 km away. i.e. nowhere on Earth.

    The Milky Way galaxy on the same scale would be over a billion km in diameter which means its disc would fit inside Jupiter’s orbit with about 100 million kilometres to spare.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      Don’t tell them that. They might take it as a challenge. 😎

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      My father and I made a model of the solar system which was accurate distance of orbits-wise when I was a kid, up to about Uranus. I asked if we could put Proxima Centauri in it. 🙂

      (Answer: No!)

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      And the Andromeda galaxy would be 3/4 of the way to Alpha Centauri

  15. Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    Wonderful project. Not only is the model to scale, but they animated it as seen from “below” the solar system, as southern hemisphere inhabitants of our marble visualize it.

  16. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted July 19, 2017 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    How far out would the oort (sp?) cloud be on this scale?

    • Posted July 19, 2017 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      The innermost part of the Oort cloud of comets is about 100 astronomical units (au) from the sun. That’s 100 times the Earth – Sun distance. The Oort cloud extends out to 100,000 au. In the video, the solar system model was built at a scale of 1 au = 176 meters. That means the Oort cloud would stretch from 176 km to 17,600 km from the model’s Sun. The outer boundary is more than one Earth-diameter from the model!

      • Posted July 19, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        “Scale invariant bigness”? (See above about including Proxima Centauri.)

  17. Posted July 19, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    THAT is cool. Good film-making as well. Well done, lads! 🙂

  18. Tim Mitchell
    Posted July 24, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Great video!
    There is an installation in Melbourne Australia – a scale model of the solar system that’s along the foreshore from St Kilda beach to Port Melbourne.
    For the purists it even includes Pluto! The sun is a bronze at about 1.5 metre diameter. Pluto is in Port Melbourne about 6km away. My wife and I with our 10yo son did the walk a couple of summers ago.

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