As young students, we all got our first introduction to the solar system through pictures that showed the planets orbiting the sun. Those pictures frequently showed equal distance between the planets and some minor differences in the sizes of the planets to show their relative mass.
Somewhere along the way, a teacher probably said that the solar system is huge and that the pictures in our textbooks were not to scale. Even with that knowledge, the true size of the solar system tends to escape our understanding.
Astronomers have given us an opportunity to get a better grasp of the distance between celestial bodies with a scale model of the solar system. Located in Sweden, it is the largest scale model in the world. If you want to visit all the planets, it will take you from one end of the country to the other.
The Sweden Solar System was built at a scale of 1:20 million. In other words, every inch, meter, yard, kilometer, or mile within the model represents 20 million of the same distance in space.
It starts at the Globe Arena in Stockholm. That is an appropriate venue for our scale model sun. The Globe is the largest spherical building in the world. With a diameter of 110 meters (360 ft), it represents the Sun, with its 1.4 million-kilometer (864,938-mile) diameter.
If you want to experience the journey from the point of view of a beam of light, you will need to travel at a steady rate of 54 km/hr (33.554 mph). that may be a wee bit difficult, considering the traffic, turns, stoplights, etc. Assuming you can do that, however, the trip to the inner planets is no problem.
Mercury, represented by a 25-centimeter sphere located 2,900 meters from the Globe, can be reached in just over three minutes. It is heated to symbolize its proximity to the Sun.
You will get to Venus, 5,500 meters from the start of the journey, about three minutes after leaving Mercury. It is represented by a 62-centimeter globe in the House of Science at AlbaNova University Centre.
Our home planet, 7,600 meters from the start, will come into view less than 8.5 minutes after your journey began. It can be found outside the entrance of the Cosmonova at the Natural History Museum. It is 65 centimeters in diameter. You can also find the moon 20 meters from the earth, shown as an 18-centimeter diameter sphere.
If you want to continue beyond home, pack a lunch and head toward Mars. Located 11.6 km from the Globe, it will take you nearly 4.5 minutes to get there from the earth.
From this point, distances start to get quite significant. Keep in mind that your journey is at a scaled rate of the speed of light (299,792,,458 m/sec or 186,000 miles/sec). Going at that speed, which is also the upper speed limit of the known universe, it will take nearly 44.5 minutes from the beginning of your journey to reach Jupiter. Located 40 km from the Globe, the model of the planet is a work in progress. It was represented by an arrangement of flowers at the Arlanda Airport. In 2019, it was replaced with a 7.1-meter diameter lighted ring in the Hotel Clarion at the airport.
Saturn is also under development. When completed, it will be 6.1 meters in diameter, located at the Celsius House in Uppsala, 73 km from the Globe. That is a journey of 1 hour, 21 minutes.
To get to Uranus, you will have to go to Lövstabruk. Situated 146 km from the Globe, you will arrive 2 hours and 42 minutes into this adventure. This distant planet is represented by a steel model that is 2.6 meters wide.
Getting to the next stop in our tour of the solar system will be 4 hours and 14 minutes into the journey. The 2.5-meter-wide representation of Neptune can be found in Söderhamn, 229 km from the Globe.
Whether you continue to classify Pluto as a planet or not, you can still see it on this journey. Located in Delsbo, 300 km from the start, it is a small, 12-centimeter crystal sphere, 5 and a half hours after beginning the journey.
Other things to visit, as long as you have gone to all the trouble of traveling this far, include the Asteroid Eros, 11 km from the Globe, or the Asteroid Saltis, 17 km away. Don’t blink, though. Saltis is less than 1 millimeter in diameter and may be difficult to see at your speed.
The model solar system also affords the opportunity to visit Haumea, the dwarf planet that was discovered in 2003. It is in Borlänge, 200 km from the Globe.
Other tourist spots include the dwarf planet Quaoar, the minor planet Ixion, and the dwarf planet Makemake. Oumuamua, the elongated interstellar object that is on its way out of our solar system, can be seen, as well.
The outer limits of the model, known as The Termination Shock, are 950 km from the Globe. A future sculpture will represent this interface between the solar wind and the surrounding galactic gas. You can visit it at the Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna, north of the Arctic Circle.
If you travel that far, be sure to bundle up. It gets awfully chilly at the edge of the solar system.