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GEDANKENGANG

All (known) Bodies in the Solar System Larger than 200 Miles in Diameter

It's just one of those things I've been itching to make for a long while, frankly because I wanted to see it - a visual listing of objects in the Solar System, ordered by size. A couple weeks ago, I started tinkering with it, today, I have something to show finally: A (large) image showing the 88 known objects in our Solar System that are larger than 200 miles in diameter.


When making it, the first questions were about limits - there are hundreds of thousands of asteroids, do I really want to make an image that big - would it even be useful? No, likely not, so where does one draw the line? I chose the Earth as the visual axis, placing it full-disc at 1000 pixels. The larger planets and Sun just bleed off the page, but still give a sense of scale by the visible curve of their limbs. And where to cut it off on the small end? Why 200 miles? Well, that's entirely arbitrary. It so happens that I have a fondness for Saturn's moon Mimas (247 miles across), and 200 was the next round number down. That simple. Also, it captures a fair percentage of known Trans-Neptunian Objects (51), enough to give a good idea of their place in the larger scheme of things.

After the parameters were chosen, it was a matter of digging up images where possible (photographic or artistic), laying it all out and labeling it. This was the largest photoshop image I've ever made - around 170 layers total. It feels good to build info visualizations like this again, I hope to do more in the near future.

Many thanks to the Wikipedia contributors who made this page: List of solar system objects by radius, it was an excellent resource.

Update 04.02.07: Added two other versions of the same image, Metric Only - All (known) Bodies in the Solar System Larger than 320 Kilometers in Diameter, and No Text Labels - For those who just want to see these objects in a line. I'm very happy that this image has been so well-received. (And, enough with the Uranus jokes, sheesh.)

31 Comments +

This fills me with and reminds me of the kind of wonder that made me seek out things like this when I was young. Thanks! I love you, you know, in a manly kind of way.
Very Cool!
by Anonymous joe at 11:25 PM 
Wonderful, thanks for doing this.
by Anonymous GammaBlog at 11:48 PM 
That totally rules.
by Anonymous Ashley at 1:31 AM 
Oh wow!

It's stuff like this that makes the internet great. 15 years ago I could have dreamt of seeing something like this, but where would I have gone to find it? How would you have been able to piece together the content to put it together.
by Anonymous Dane Carlson at 2:39 AM 
Wonderful Image
by Anonymous Essjay at 5:47 AM 
Thanks, this spurred a great conversation and learning moment with my 7 year old. A big poster of this hung up in classrooms would be great! Hmm, I might be able to tile print it out...
by Anonymous Jason at 10:06 AM 
Make it into a poster so that I can buy a copy?
by Anonymous Erin at 11:14 AM 
You should consider putting the image in an article from Wikipedia.
by Anonymous Pedro at 12:00 PM 
Can you post a version of the image without the labels? I'd love to make it my desktop image.
by Anonymous designjerk at 2:03 PM 
Kudos!

As I wrote in a post on my own blog, you should try printing it. As large as possible. It would make a great science poster that would attract both people liking its great looks (image lovers) and people interested in the science behind (schools maybe).

There are plenty of locations that would allow this to happen without your investing money into that.
by Anonymous Yves Roumazeilles at 2:12 PM 
An amazing image. This would make a wonderful poster for a classroom. Or my room.
by Anonymous MArainman at 2:52 PM 
Have you considered expanding the bigger planets out to the right such that they create the background? I think it would give a better sense of their scale compared to the rest. It's hard to judge when they're just slivers on the right.

But great job! Thanks!
by Anonymous Abe at 2:54 PM 
*just slivers on the LEFT is what I meant of course.
by Anonymous Anonymous at 2:55 PM 
Yes, thank you for your time and effort. It's a beautiful image, and like many others, I'd love to see it as a poster for classrooms or personal use. As a "child of the space age" (born the day Sputnik went up), I too am coming up on a half-century. However many years are left to me, I will never forget my first glimpse of Saturn through a telescope: not large--I was a child, the scope barely more than a toy--but seeing those gorgeous rings in the clear, predawn chill... well, lives can be changed by little moments like that. Thank you so much for the lovely image, and the memories it evoked. Bless you.
by Anonymous George at 3:34 PM 
Yeah I think that would be a good poster... I could love a copy
by Anonymous Rob at 4:16 PM 
If you addad image map and made the objects clickable, that would be wow!
by Anonymous MaS at 4:57 PM 
Also quite interesting and DIY :)
http://jef.raskincenter.org/pictures/solar_system.html
by Anonymous MaS at 5:02 PM 
This is great. Thank you.
I wonder if there are any things 200 miles in diameter in our solar system that we have not found yet?
by Anonymous Ken Roberts at 5:18 PM 
Wow -- fabulous. Must print one out for my office, thanks so much!
by Anonymous squawky at 11:42 PM 
This is great ... but you're missing some asteroids.
by Anonymous Luke at 2:31 AM 
Sorry - you're right, the list of asteroids is complete as far as I can t ell. I originally misread it as all objects with diameter > 200 km, not miles.

In answer to Ken Roberts - discovery of Kuiper belt objects is very far from complete at 200 miles. The brightness of objects that reflect sunlight drops as 1/(r^2 D^2), where r is the distance from the Sun and D is the distance from the Earth. If you observe identical bodies in the asteroid belt (r = 2.5 AU, D = 1.5 AU) and in the Kuiper belt (r = 40 AU, D = 39 AU), the Kuiper belt object will be 13 magnitudes fainter.
by Anonymous Luke at 3:05 AM 
Awesome, Dude! I sent it to everyone I work with in Space Odyssey (DMNS)
by Anonymous M David Martinez at 6:09 AM 
This reminds me of this great scale lineup nikon put together:

http://www.nikon.co.jp/main/eng/feelnikon/discovery/universcale/index_f.htm
by Anonymous CharlesV at 8:38 PM 
Wow, really nice! It would be great though if you could give something back to wikipedia by releasing this image in one of the "free" licences, such as CC-BY-SA.

I'd also like the idea of having the diameters of the 5 big planets being shown by just drawing a white line where their right perimeter would be - for Jupiter this would be somewhere near the right edge of the image, Neptunus and Uranus would end up somewhere near Io and Saturn in between. The sun would off course fall off by far!
by Anonymous Tijmen Stam at 4:50 AM 
Great job Alan, this is a great visual and helpful teaching tool!
by Anonymous Matt Jones at 3:15 PM 
Very very impressive. Indeed, it evokes in a me a sense of wonder that I have not experienced since a child. A suggestion - as you have made the Earth the visual axis, perhaps a visual indication of the distance the bodies are from Earth - a dot placed under the Earth in the centre of it's diameter, with a white line through to each side of the image. Where the matches the centre of each object, have a line and the distance (in millions kms? Solar units?). Only a suggestion and in no way a criticism! Well done! /\/\
by Anonymous Martin Daly at 9:53 AM 
Well written article.
by Anonymous Ayla at 1:59 PM 
I'm not a commenter; I just don't do it. Nevertheless I am compelled to inform the author that this page totally kicks ass. If the world wide web had an ass, it would be kicked. Out past the heliopause. This page is an intersteller ass-kicker and likely an intergalactic ass-kicker, provided the ass that was kicked clean off by this page doesn't run into anything, like those pain-in-the-ass Kuiper Belt objects always buckin' for a promotion to 'dwarf-this' or 'quasi-that'. I'm putting the bong down...now.
by Blogger KG at 12:11 PM 
200 km - I was pleased tp see I was not on it.
by Anonymous Anonymous at 5:32 PM 
Anyone else notice the death star third from the right?
by Anonymous Anonymous at 8:07 AM 
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