Understanding Distance In Our Solar System.
Our solar system is really, really big. Well, not compared to the rest of the ever-expanding universe, but to a human's mind, it is. Our brains naturally perceive time and distance in small fragments, because it's all we know.
For instance, we only live around 75+ years on average, so contemplating even a millennium is difficult. Then consider how long homo sapiens have been around (100,000-200,000 years), to the length of time ago our planet formed (4.5 billion years). The larger the number, the harder it is to understand that length of time; the same goes for distance.
We're accustomed to inches, feet, and miles, but go too far a distance, like our closest neighboring galaxy (Andromeda), or go too 'small' of a distance on a quantum level, and length becomes indistinguishable to the standard model of space between two objects in the human mind. As I was thinking about this today, I thought I'd write this article on the radius of our solar system in its entirety.
The standard scholastic model in a class room or museum, although generally accurate in planet/object order, skews the reality of distances between our rocky and gaseous space friends. How far away are those objects in the sky from us? Let's find out.
Starting with the light in the sky that was originally considered by some of our early ancestors to be our creator, we (Earth) are between 92 million and 94 million miles away. This places us in the habitable zone or 'Goldilocks Zone", which means we occupy an area in space where heat and cold become our friend and make it possible for us to evolve and survive. Had another planet been where we are, it would have had the same chances of evolving life. This leads us to believe that other solar systems in the universe could harbor life like our planet does.
Mercury, named after the Roman messenger god, was named that due to its extremely fast orbit around the Sun, compared to the other known planets at that time. Mercury is 48 million miles from Earth. Despite its distance, we sent Mariner 10 to do a fly by in the 1970's and then explored again in the 2000's with our spacecraft Messenger, which orbited the planet 4,000 times before crashing into its surface.
Venus is sometimes confused as an alien spacecraft visiting Earth, especially near airports, where airplanes are seen travelling quickly in the air as Venus, just as bright, appears motionless. It's brightness is due to the total white cloud coverage in its atmosphere, which reflects a lot of light from the Sun. Venus is 162 million miles from Earth and is one of the most visible planets in the night sky.
Mars, our red 'martian' cousin, is 249 million miles away from Earth. Mars is one of the most publicized planets, as it appears often in sci-fi literature and could possibly harbor life, related or unrelated to humans. Currently, it is also the 'easiest' object, besides the moon, to explore outside of our planet. Many probes have reached its surface and it is continually explored to this day.
Jupiter, the largest of our solar planetary neighbors, is 365 million miles away. Jupiter also boasts the largest amount of known moons at 67, all of which are at varying distances from the large planet. It also contains a storm that has been raging for at least 400 years(based off of when it was first spotted).
Saturn, famous for its beautiful rings (although it is not the only planet with rings), is 746 million miles away from us. Its gravity holds onto 62 known moons. Saturn is the last planet on this list that stays under the billion mile mark.
Originally named George when first discovered, Uranus at its closest, is 1.6 billion miles to us. At its furthest, Earth and Uranus are separated by 1.98 billion miles. Uranus also has rings, but they are hard to see, as well as 27 known moons.
Neptune is our new, furthest planet (sorry, Pluto), at 2.7 billion miles. Neptune is extremely cold, with a surface temperature of -218 degrees Celsius. In case you're wondering, Pluto is 4.67 billion miles from Earth, but has now been demoted to a dwarf planet.
For a better idea of these distances, Josh Worth has created an interactive page called "If The Moon Were Only One Pixel":
*Note: The distances from Earth are an average and change depending on where they are in their orbital path around the Sun.