How do We Know What the Solar System Looks Like?
Author: Kathy Gustavson with permission from the Education Team for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Updated July 2022 Age Level: High School (14), UniversityEducational Standards: Earth and Space Science Short Description: Look at the picture. It’s a beautiful view of the Solar System, created by artists at NASA. You have probably seen pictures like it many times before. You know that the Sun is in the middle and that the Earth is the third planet. But have you ever wondered how we got that picture? Except for a few space probes, we’ve always stayed on or near the surface of the Earth. Even astronauts have never made it beyond the moon. Our model of how the Solar System looks was created entirely from our observations on Earth. In this Project, you will learn how we know what the Solar System looks like, and how the Earth fits in to the Solar System. The project is divided into three main lessons. Coordinate Systems, Mapping the Solar System, and Earth, Sun, and Seasons. About the Sloan Digital Sky Survey: The Sloan Digital Sky Survey or SDSS is a major multi-spectral imaging and spectroscopic redshift survey using a dedicated 2.5-m wide-angle optical telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, United States. The project was named after the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which contributed significant funding. The data are available for non-commercial use only, without written permission ( https://classic.sdss.org/). The Sloan Digital Sky Survey offers teachers and informal science educators a wealth of astronomical data and images through lesson plans, interactive media, presentations and more.
To learn about the Solar System, it helps to understand coordinates that can be used to describe it. You may have seen coordinates on an x-y graph. x goes horizontally and y goes vertically. The graph above is a very simple graph of x and y. But to make a graph of the Solar System, we need to use a different type of coordinates. We are looking from Earth, and Earth is a sphere. So we must use coordinates that can work on the surface of a sphere. The coordinates for the sky are based on coordinates for the Earth.
a.) Earth Coordinates
Do you know how to describe your position on the Earth? One way would be to give your street address. For example:
But, what if you were constantly on the move? Or, what if you were in the middle of the ocean? In that case, you couldn’t give a street address, but you could still identify your position using your coordinates on the surface of the earth, known as your longitude and latitude. Latitude is measured in degrees north or south of the Equator. The Equator is an imaginary line at 0° latitude. The North Pole is at 90° North, and the South Pole is at 90° South. The picture below shows a map of the Earth. The center of the map, just off the west coast of Africa, is the point where the Equator and the Prime Meridian meet. Take any standard piece of paper (8.5 x 11 inches) and hold it in the landscape orientation. If the paper has a map printed on it, great! Form a cylinder by taping or holding the two short sides together. If this paper has a map of the earth on it, this cylinder is a simple model of the earth. Answer the following questions below in Journal 0: Comparing Models of the Earth 1. Compare your simple model to another model of the Earth, a globe. How are the two models similar? How are they different? 2. The flat map is a two dimensional model and the globe is a three-dimensional model. Which model is better for modeling the the Earth? Why do you think that is so? 3. Are there any other models of the Earth you can think of? How are they different?
b.) Maps and Globes
Is there anything wrong with your model of the Earth? Well, for one thing, the Earth is not a cylinder! The entire bottom edge of your model represents the South Pole, which is a single point on the real, spherical Earth. Another problem with your model is that it doesn’t accurately represent true sizes. Antarctica appears to be the largest continent on the planet, but in reality it’s not much larger than the United States. The map below shows the true sizes of the United States and Antarctica: In fact, the closer something is to either the North or South Poles, the more horizontally-stretched it will appear on a simple map like the one from the previous topic. These problems are the reason that we have globes! Globes are a perfect representation of the spherical Earth. However, globes have their own problems: they’re bulky, not everyone has one, and they’re not easy to graph on. For these reasons, we still use flat maps. In spite of their problems, maps are useful representations of the features of the Earth.
Have you ever looked up at the sky from a dark place? You see lots of stars, as shown in the picture at the right. You can almost imagine that the stars are painted on the inside of a gigantic black sphere. In reality, this sphere doesn’t exist; stars are all at vast distances away from Earth and from one another. Even though it’s not real, the idea of the Celestial Sphere is useful, because it helps us point out specific places in the sky. Image credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey
The celestial sphere gives astronomers a coordinate system for the sky, based on the system that we use here on Earth. The North Celestial Pole is directly above the Earth’s North Pole, close to the North Star. There is also a Celestial Equator, which is directly above the Earth’s Equator. Finally, just as we can imagine that lines of Longitude and Latitude are painted on the Earth, we can also picture coordinates painted on the inside of the imaginary Celestial Sphere. Image credits: All spheres are Wikipedia CommonsBoth the stars and the coordinate lines on the imaginary Celestial Sphere appear to rotate around the Earth, even though it’s really the Earth that’s rotating. But because both the stars AND the celestial sphere seem to rotate, the same star will appear at the same place every night. So if you asked an astronomer where she was pointing her telescope to see a specific star, she would answer with the coordinates of that star on the Celestial Sphere. The Celestial Sphere Woodrow Wilson Memorial with the Assembly Hall in the background. Palais des Nations, Geneva, 2010. From Wikipedia
Georgia’s Solar Energy
The potential for solar energy use in Georgia is dependent upon the amount of sun shining on the earth’s surface called solar insolation. Several factors such as weather patterns, humidity and haze can affect local insolation levels.
As can be seen on this solar map, insolation values in Georgia are significant enough to support solar energy systems in our state, with the southern two-thirds of Georgia having solar insolation values equivalent to most of the state of Florida.
Calculate Your Solar Power
Get an estimate of the amount of energy your solar panels will produce in an annual period.
An uncapped 26% federal income tax credit is available to homeowners for solar equipment placed in service before December 31, 2020. Find information about tax incentives at the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy. Please consult your tax advisor to determine how this federal incentive may apply to your particular circumstances.
Georgians may qualify to be eligible for the Federal Solar Tax Credit.
Government agencies and utilities offer a variety of tax credits and rebates. See if you qualify for nationally available rebates or find savings that may be available to you at Energy.gov Tax Credits, Rebates, and Savings.
Georgia Solar Potential
The potential for solar energy use in Georgia is dependent upon the amount of sun shining on the earth’s surface called solar insolation. Several factors such as weather patterns, humidity and haze can affect local insolation levels. However, insolation values in Georgia are significant enough to support solar energy systems in our state, with the southern two-thirds of Georgia having solar insolation values equivalent to most of the state of Florida.
Solar Basics: Learn more about the basics of how solar works from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Solar Research: The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) offers research data and information for photovoltaics for homes and solar water heating for homes.
Solar Electric Power Association: The Solar Electric Power Association provides solar info from the utility company perspective.
Cost and Production
PVWatts Georgia: Use the NREL PV watts calculator to estimate the amount of energy your solar panels will produce in an annual period.
Georgia Incentives Rebates
An uncapped 30% federal income tax credit is available to homeowners for solar equipment placed in service before December 31, 2019. Find information about tax incentives at the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy. Please consult your tax advisor to determine how this federal incentive may apply to your particular circumstances.
Energy.gov Tax Credits, Rebates, and Savings
Solar Demonstration Project
Housed on the roof of our Georgia Power’s headquarters, the energy generated by the PV panels is partially offsetting the electricity needs of our corporate headquarters.
REC Disclaimer: A Renewable Energy Certificate (REC), sometimes called a renewable energy credit, represents the renewable attributes of energy produced from a renewable energy facility. RECs are considered a commodity and can be sold or traded separately from the actual energy. Georgia Power purchases only the null energy output from the renewable generating facilities that have contracted to sell energy from their solar facilities through the Large Scale Solar (LSS) program and the initial (2013/2014) Advance Solar Initiative (ASI). The sole ownership of RECs belongs to each generating facility, as specifically stated in each respective power purchase agreement (PPA). The original intent of these programs was to grow renewable resources in Georgia, while allowing the generating facilities to retain the benefits of the RECs. Georgia Power does not report emission reductions from the null energy purchased through PPAs that do not bundle the RECs for sale to Georgia Power.
Interactive Solar System Map
You can explore the position of the planets throughout history and into the future. Why not try navigating to your birthday and checking for any planetary alignments?
https://nustem.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Solar-System-Scope1.png 624 1581 Joe Shimwell https://nustem.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/logo-banner.png Joe Shimwell 2014-11-13 11:08:04 2014-11-21 17:26:25 Interactive Solar System Map
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Planets with Stockholm addresses
Models of comets, dwarf planets, and other more eccentric members of the solar system family are generally located south of Stockholm. Not to complicate our road trip too much, we will concentrate on points north, going past all the main planets. And it starts simple enough: the first few ones all have Stockholm addresses.
The planet Mercury is placed 1.8 Mi (2.9 km) from the Globe, just outside Stockholm City Museum and is no more than 9.8 in (25 cm) in diameter. For Venus, go to Vetenskapens Hus (House of Science) at the Royal Institute of Technology. This sphere is 24 in (62 cm) in diameter, and is located 3.4 Mi (5.5 km) from the Globe.
Earth is at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, 4.7 Mi (7.6 km) from the Globe. It’s a sphere 26 in (65 cm) in diameter. The museum also houses a model to scale of the Moon (7.1 in, 18 cm). Mars (14 in, 35 cm) is on the upper level of Mörby Centrum, a shopping center and metro station in the Stockholm suburb of Danderyd, at 7.2 Mi (11.6 km) from the Globe.
There is a big gap between the small solid planets on the inside of the solar system and the first of the gas giants — both in the heavens and in Sweden. Jupiter is represented by a light ring 24 ft (7.3 m) in diameter inside the Clarion Hotel at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, 25 Mi (40 km) from the Globe.
Missing in action: Saturn
In 2009, Saturn was represented by a flower carpet with a diameter of 20 ft (6.1 m) on Celsius Square, outside the old observatory of Anders Celsius (yes, he of temperature fame) in the center of Uppsala, 45 Mi (73 km) from the Globe. The idea was to build a dome over the planetarium of a local school as a more permanent representation of Saturn, but the funding fell through. As of today, it is the only planet not represented in the Sweden Solar System. There are still plans to build a Saturn in Uppsala, and local schools have already created models of some of the moons.
A first likeness of Uranus was vandalized, so a second one (8 ft 6 in, 2.6 m) was installed in 2012 near Stora Magasinet in Lövstabruk, 77 Mi (124 km) from the Globe. In keeping with the nautical inclination of the planet’s titular deity, Neptune (8 ft 2 in, 2.5 m) is in the coastal town of Söderhamn. This three-ton acrylic Neptune is 142 Mi (229 km) from the Globe, and is illuminated at night from the inside.
Plutinos and other Trans-Neptunian objects
A “Trans-Neptunian object” rather than a planet these days, Pluto (4.7 in, 12 cm) and its largest moon Charon are nevertheless included in the Sweden Solar System. Find them in a park near the center of Delsbo, 190 Mi (300 km) from the Globe. Further beyond Neptune (and further north) are Ixion (2.6 in, 6.5 cm), a so-called “plutino,” in Härnösand, 224 miles (360 km) from the Globe; Eris (5.1 in, 13 cm), in Umeå, 320 Mi (510 km) from the Globe; and Sedna (3.9 in, 10 cm), in Luleå, 567 Mi (912 km) from the Globe.
From there, it’s still a four-hour drive through the vast wilderness of Swedish Lapland until you reach Kiruna at the outer edge of the Sweden Solar System.
If that’s a bit too much road-tripping for you, stick to southern Sweden, where you can pick from a variety of scale models strewn across the land, including Asteroid 36614 “Saltis,” at a school in Saltsjöbaden, near the Stockholm Observatory where it was discovered in 2000. It was named Saltis, after the observatory’s nickname.
An alien object in Plönninge
Asteroid 433 “Eros” was inaugurated at Mörbyskolan in Danderyd on Saint Valentine’s Day 2000, the same day a space probe entered orbit around the asteroid. The model, only 2 mm wide, is made of pure gold. The comet Swift-Tuttle at the Kreativum science center in Karlshamn is 240 Mi (386 km) from the Globe, representing the furthest distance the comet gets from the sun. At its closest, it would need to be in central Stockholm. You can find Halley’s Comet in Skövde, the comet Makemake in Gothenburg, and the allegedly “alien” object ‘Oumuamua in Plönninge.
The concept for the Sweden Solar System was born in the late 1990s, when a professor cycling past Globen wondered how big and how far the planets would need to be if it represented the sun. Originally conceived as the Stockholm Solar System with planets no further than Jupiter, the idea was soon taken up by schools, science institutions, and other organizations further afield.
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The Sweden Solar System currently consists of more than 60 objects distributed across 26 locations in Sweden. The latest to be added are the dwarf planet Varda and its moon Ilmarë in Uddevalla in September 2021. Plans to add more scale models of dwarf planets, comets, and asteroids are in the works.
For more on the Sweden Solar System, visit its website.
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Note: Since its completion on July 4, 2023, the Sphere at the Venetian in Las Vegas holds the title of the world’s largest spherical building, with a diameter of 515 ft (157 m). Many thanks to reader Theuns Dirkse van Schalkwyk for pointing this out. However, it must be said that the Avicii Arena represents a larger part of a complete sphere (77.2%) than the new kid on the Strip (71.3%). The Stockholm globe remains a lot bigger than the third-largest spherical building in the world, the Kazakhstan Science Museum (262 ft, 80 m) in Astana.