LIVING CORAM DEO
Tuesday, 21 November, 2017

Where Everything is in the Solar System

Where Everything is in the Solar System

Among the many wonderful things that NASA does, it maintains open-access scientific data on the positions and motions of known natural objects in the solar system. The solar system dynamics website at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (and Caltech) also posts regularly updated visual maps of the locations of planets, numbered asteroids (over some 450,000 at present), and comets.

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INNER SOLAR SYSTEM FROM ABOVE. YELLOW DOTS INDICATE ASTEROIDS, WHITE ‘ARROWS’ POINTING SUNWARD INDICATE COMETS (CREDIT: P. CHODAS/NASA/JPL)

So, if you wanted to know what’s out and about right now, in 2016, here are the maps – first showing the view looking ‘down’ onto the ecliptic plane from a vantage above over the northern solar pole,

 

 

 

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OUTER SOLAR SYSTEM, SYMBOLS AS ABOVE (CREDIT: P. CHODAS NASA/JPL)

 

then looking ‘sideways’ from a vantage point in the ecliptic plane. In each set of 3 maps we zoom away from the inner solar system, then see just the outer solar system, and finally the ‘distant’ solar system of Kuiper-belt, or trans-Neptunian objects.

 

 

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DISTANT SOLAR SYSTEM (CREDIT: P. CHODAS NASA/JPL)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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INNER SOLAR SYSTEM, EDGE-ON (CREDIT: P. CHODAS NASA/JPL)
4orbit_plot_outer_edge
OUTER SOLAR SYSTEM, EDGE-ON (CREDIT: P. CHODAS NASA/JPL)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DISTANT SOLAR SYSTEM, EDGE-ON (CREDIT: P. CHODAS NASA/JPL)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bear in mind that these are just the known objects. Also bear in mind that as cluttered as our solar system appears, the individual bodies are absolutely miniscule compared to the gulfs of empty space that separate them. Even in the inner asteroid belt there are, on average, millions of kilometers between the larger members, and you could fit all the major planets end-to-end in the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Credit: Caleb A. Scharf for Scientific American

29 January 2016

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