Earth as a Marble – the First Timelapse of the Solar System to Scale

solar system size comparison

When we see depictions of the solar system, we often see an inaccurate representation of its size and scale.  Some of the planets are often enlarged, other planets are minimized to a degree, while the orbital paths are shrunken down to be closer to the sun.  This is done because, when viewing the entire solar system, you want to see everything that is there.  Not only is there an enormous amount of space between the planets–especially between the rocky inner planets and the outer gas giants–but the scale between the inner and outter planets are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  After all, you can fit over a thousand Earths inside Jupiter.
Giving an accurate depiction of the solar system’s scale is a very difficult task.  It is a task that was recently tackled by filmmakers Alex Gorosh and Wylie Overstreet, using the “Earth as a marble” concept.

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The Mountains and Makeup of Pluto

mountains of pluto

July 15th was a historic occasion as it marked the first time we were able to see close-up pictures of Pluto’s surface.  Traveling at over 30,000 mph, New Horizons snapped some very interesting pictures of the dwarf planet’s surface as it came within 47 thousand miles of it, beaming back to us details never before seen.  What New Horizons captured for us was a first glimpse at mountain ranges and deposits of methane & nitrogen ice.

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Amazing Photos of How Clouds Cast Thousand-Mile Shadows Into Space


While on board the International Space Station, geophysicist Alexander Gerst spent a lot of time looking back down to Earth from 205 miles above.  In his tenure aboard the ISS he took loads of photographs, documenting hurricanes, floods, dust storms, and oil fields.  One of his favorite things, however, was taking pictures of how clouds cast shadows.  The results can be quite dramatic.

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Catch the Total Lunar Eclipse on April 4th


This April 4th, 2015, most of North America, South America, Asia, and parts of Australia will be able to view a Total Lunar Eclipse.  The moon will be eclipsed in totality for about 5 minutes.  The entire event will take place, from beginning to end, for 3 hours and 29 minutes.

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Ten Facts About Our Solar System’s Moons

10 Face about our moons

Today, Oct. 23rd, most of the United States and Canada will be able to view the partial solar eclipse that will start at about 6pm EST.  An eclipse, of course, is when an astronomical body is obscured, either by passing into the shadow of another body or having another body pass between it and the viewer .  To mark the occasion I thought it would be interesting if we looked at some other moons in our solar system.  So here are ten quick facts about all those moons that orbit the planets.

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A Rare Sight: You Can See Venus During The Day This Week

venus in the sky at day

Besides the Sun and Moon, Venus is the brightest celestial body.  It’s so bright that you can even see it during the daytime.  Tomorrow morning, and the rest of the week, you can see Venus in the morning sky just before sunrise.  That is, if it is a clear sky when you go out.  Depending on where you are, Venus is about two fists above the horizon.

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Send your name to an asteroid!

NASA is inviting people around the world to submit their names to be etched on a microchip aboard a spacecraft headed to the asteroid Bennu in 2016. The “Messages to Bennu!” microchip will travel to the asteroid aboard NASA’s Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. The robotic mission will spend more than two years at the 1,760-foot (500-meter)-wide asteroid. The spacecraft will collect a sample of Bennu’s surface and return it to Earth in a sample return capsule.

NASA is proposing this project as a great opportunity for people to get engaged with the mission. Those wishing to participate in “Messages to Bennu!” should submit their name online no later than 30 September, 2014 at:

After a person submits their name, they will be able to download and print a certificate documenting their participation in the OSIRIS-REx mission. So, be part of humankind’s exploration of the solar system –How cool is that?

Participants who “follow” or “like” the mission on Facebook will receive updates on the location of their name in space from launch time until the asteroid samples return to Earth in 2023. Facebook fans also will be kept apprised of mission progress and late-breaking news through regular status updates.

The OSIRIS-REx mission goal is to address basic questions about the composition of the very early solar system, the source of organic materials and water that made life possible on Earth, and to better predict the orbits of asteroids that represent collision threats to the Earth. It will collect a minimum of 2 ounces (60 grams) of surface material. Once the sample return capsule deploys, the spacecraft will be placed into a long-term solar orbit around the sun, along with the microchip and every name on it.

For more information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:

Loki the Volcano

There has been lots of talk in Baton Rouge about ice, snow, and cold. Let’s change focus and talk about something hot: volcanoes! The planetarium is about to debut its latest show “Super Volcanoes” which gives audiences a front row seat to some of Earth’s largest volcanic eruptions. The show features extensive live action footage of geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park, as well as a complex simulation of an eruption of the Solar System’s largest active volcano, Loki.

Loki can be found on Jupiter’s moon Io. Named for the Norse God of Mischief (or comic book villain if you prefer), this volcano is considered to be the hottest and most powerful in the Solar System. Loki is officially called Loki Patera which means “Loki Basin”. Loki is not a tall volcano, it has no cone. It is the opposite, a large depression in Io’s surface that is filled with lava. Loki alone puts out more heat than all of Earth’s volcanoes combined!

lokiplumeVolcanism was discovered on Io by Voyager back in the 1970s. Up until this point people thought Earth was the only place with such active geology. Initially it was surprising to discover this much activity on such a tiny world. Scientists thought that since larger bodies (such as the other rocky planets, and larger moons) appeared to have thoroughly cooled and stopped exhibiting signs of active volcanism, tiny bodies such as Io wouldn’t exhibit it either. Voyager snapped photos of Io’s surface, showing large volcanic scars as well as plumes of ash reaching into the skies. Io had even more volcanic activity than Earth!

So why is this? As we rub our hands together to stay warm in this winter weather we’re having here in Baton Rouge, consider the moon Io. Io orbits closest to Jupiter out of the four largest moons. The combination of tidal forces from Jupiter, tidal forces from the other large moons, as well as the shape of Io’s orbit all play a role. The constant tugging on Io is thought to cause friction and internal heat inside the moon. Kind of like when you rub your hands together but a lot more so!

lokiarealIo has mountains and plains, as well as different types of volcanoes. Loki is thought to be a large lake of lava. Images taken from spacecraft show a large dark depression (almost 130 miles across!) with steep edges. Thermal studies have shown that the surface is extremely hot, likely due to a large pool of lava covered by a thin crust. The crusts of these lava lakes can become disrupted, triggering a wave across the lake. The denser crust sinks below the molten rock beneath causing the lake to resurface itself.  Scientists are still unsure about how Loki-type volcanoes form on Io. They could form from a collapsed volcano (this occurs on Earth and they are known as Caldarae), or they could be created from an impact of a large meteor into the surface.

Images of spacecraft have also shown plumes of volcanic material being ejected from Loki that have reached nearly 150 Km above the surface (that’s higher than the International Space Station orbits above Earth!). In “Super Volcanoes” audiences will travel to Loki and witness what this eruption might look like from the surface!

If you haven’t already, check out the trailer for “Super Volcanoes”, opening February 1 at the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium.