Robert Krulwich addresses the problem of our human inability to understand the vastness of space. There are no words to adequately describe it, so he falls back on the poetic description in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. See, the images we’ve all seen show the planets at a size we can comfortably see, while the space between them is compressed so that the solar system can fit on the page. The really big part of the solar system is space itself, and the planets are just microscopic in comparison. But a visual analogy might help.
Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh went out to the desert to make a model of the solar system to scale. That’s the only place they could think of where there’s really enough room. This project aims to scale not only the planets, but the space between them.
While our planet Earth is an actual blue marble, they have to drive a vehicle out to the other planetary orbits. Then it gets really neat, as they drive around with lights after dark to show the orbits. Krulwich says,
The most wonderful moment comes at the very end, when we stand nose to nose with the marble that is Earth and look back at the actual sun coming up in the east and, astonishingly, their model sun and the real sun … match! They’re the same size. So the model suddenly feels real, and that’s when Overstreet takes Earth and tosses it along the desert floor so it rolls into orbit, and you see, really think you see, how small (minuscule? tiny? Lilliputian?) our little planet—home to all of us—actually, really is.
It’s lip-bitingly beautiful.