Reducing everything to make the distances understandable
Understanding the distances between planetary orbits in our solar system can be made easier by reducing everything and comparing it to something we’re familiar with. Below I reduce the sun down to one inch and afterward take the gigantic distances and reduce them proportionally and compare it all to a softball field.
Our sun is about 865,560 miles in diameter (1,392,685 km). To reduce it down to an inch (2.54 cm), we would determine that it is: 865,560 x 5,280 x 12 = 54,841,881,600 inches. Therefore, to determine the distances between the sun and the other planets, if the sun were reduced to an inch in diameter and proportions remain the same, we would figure out how many inches it is to a particular planet and then divide by 54,841,881,600.
True distances from the sun to each planet
Each of the eight major planets has an orbit that is at least somewhat elliptical. Mercury’s orbit is the most elliptical, and Venus has the least elliptical orbit. This list has the average distances calculated, between the two extremes for each planet – their furthest and closest points to the sun along their orbits:
Mercury has an average distance from the sun of: 35,990,709 miles (57,909,050 km).
Venus: 67,251,709 miles (108,208,000 km)
Earth: 92,975,924 miles (149,598,261 km)
Mars: 141,665,103 miles (227,949,150 km)
Jupiter: 483,870,230 miles (778,547,200 km)
Saturn: 890,894,574 miles (1,433,449,370 km)
Uranus: 1,787,867,671 miles (2,876,679,083 km)
Neptune: 2,798,908,429 miles (4,503,443,662 km)
The planets of our solar system
Sizes shown to scale with one another
Scaling down: If the sun were an inch in diameter
Now using the formula shared in the introduction to this article, here is what we’d get for our reduced-in-size solar system. Distances from a one-inch sun to the planets:
Mercury: 41.6 inches (105.6 cm), or 3 feet 5.6 inches
Venus: 77.7 inches (197.3 cm), or 6 feet 5.7 inches
Earth: 107.4 inches (272.8 cm), or 8 feet 11.4 inches
Mars: 163.7 inches (415.7 cm), or 13 feet 7.7 inches
Jupiter: 559.0 inches (14.2 meters), or 46 feet 7 inches
Saturn: 1,029.3 inches (26.1 meters), or 85 feet 9.3 inches
Uranus: 2,065.6 inches (52.5 meters), or 172 feet 1.6 inches
Neptune: 3,233.6 inches (82.1 meters), or 269 feet 5.6 inches
The furthest dwarf planet known
There are probably hundreds and maybe even thousands of dwarf planets, and all but one venture beyond the orbit of Neptune. Ceres is found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Dwarf planet Sedna goes way out to more than 900 times the distance of the Earth to the sun. No other known dwarf planets go as far in their orbits.
At its furthest point, Sedna would calculate to the following if the sun were an inch (2.54 cm) in diameter: To Sedna’s furthest distance (aphelion), it would be 100,525.2 inches (2,553.3 meters), or 8,377 feet, or 1.6 miles.
Artwork produced by a NASA employee shows what our sun might look like in the distance, as seen from the dwarf planet Sedna.
Comparison to a softball field
A men’s slow-pitch softball field has a fence typically 275 to 300 feet (85 to 90 meters) from home plate. After everything explained and calculated above, here is what we’d get:
- If the sun were an inch in diameter and sitting on home plate, Neptune would be near the outfield fence.
- Uranus would be near the middle of the outfield, and Saturn would be near second base.
- Jupiter would be about ten feet (3 meters) beyond the pitcher’s mound, Mars would be less than halfway to the mound.
- Earth would be about nine feet (just under 3 meters) away, Venus would be only about six-and-a-half feet (2 meters) away, and Mercury would barely be further away than the length of a softball bat.
- Sedna would be more than a mile-and-a-half away on the other side of town or in the next town over, and at its closest distance would still be more than double the distance of the fence in center field.
If the sun were an inch across, Jupiter would be about 1/10th of an inch across (2.5 mm) and far larger than all other planets, Earth would be about 1/100th of an inch (0.25 mm), and Sedna would be about 1/1,200th of an inch across (0.002 mm).
Softball fields have fences that are typically 275 to 300 feet (82 to 90 meters) from home plate to center field. The distance between bases is 60 feet (18 meters). Home plate to second base is about 85 feet (26 meters).