“To Scale: The Solar System”: We are on a little blue marble floating in the middle of nothing

By on September 18, 2015

In this engaging short film by Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh, “To Scale: The Solar System,” a group of friends are shown building the first accurate-to-scale model of the solar system in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, complete with each planet’s orbits, all showing a true illustration of the Earth’s place in the universe, where, if our planet was the size of a small marble, our solar system would have to be seven miles wide.

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We here at Night Flight HQ love sharing little films like this (and this) when we come across them, showing people out there making an impact with their ingenious engineering skills, creating inventions, making discoveries, and sharing technological breakthroughs with the rest of us for the good of, dare we say it?, all mankind. We hope if you dig this one, you’ll share it, too, and spread the impact.

This science-driven filmic project came about because Wylie Overstreet, Alex Goresh and their friends decided build a scale model of what our solar system might actually look like if you were able to capture it all in one photographic shot — it’s something we’ve all seen before in science books, but it’s actually pretty impossible to accurately portray the immensity of the universe if you’re trying to show the actual scale of the sun and the planets.

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So, Overstreeet and his friends drove out to a dry lakebed in the middle of the Black Rock Desert, and began setting up their cameras and their props — the sun and all of the the planets in our solar system — for the purposes of filming a time-lapse video from a nearby mountaintop.

They gave themselves only 36 hours to create a model showing with the planets’ orbits, animated at night through lights. The idea was to create a time-lapse to show just how big the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Mars really are.

As this NPR piece on the film points out, “In this solar system, Jupiter is about the size of a miniature watermelon. The sun is a small weather balloon.”

With a marble-size Earth, the sun is about 4 1/12 feet in diameter. So going out from the middle, Mercury is 224-feet from the center, Venus is 447 feet, Earth is 579 feet, Mars is 881 feet, Jupiter is 57 miles, Saturn is 1.1 miles, Uranus is 2.1 miles and Neptune is 3.5 miles away.

(Why is there a great Plimsouls song running through our head right now?)

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The setup took 36 hours, and the model used time-lapse photography to show the orbits. To test the accuracy of the scale model, the group lifted their 4 1/12-foot-wide sun up just as the actual sun was rising, filming from where the Earth was.

The film opens up with this quote from Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin: “As we got farther and farther away, the Earth diminished in size. finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine … seeing this has to change a man.”

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The film closes with a little perspective, noting only 24 people have seen the full circle of the Earth with their own eyes, people who have been far enough away on moon missions to get it into full view.

There are quotes from some of those men including this beauty from Apollo 8 and Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, from the 2007 film, In the Shadow of the Moon:

“You can put your thumb up, and you can hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you have ever known…all behind your thumb.”

Summing up, Overstreet says “That’s what I really wanted to try and capture. We are on a marble floating in the middle of nothing. When you sort of come face to face with that, it’s staggering.”

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Wylie Overstreet

We have to also point out that this film has a wonderful score by composer Philip Krohnengold, who two years ago composed the music to a wonderful short documentary The Hjemkomst: Thirty Years Later, which was co-written by one of the participants here, Alex Gorosh (along with Eli Akira Kaufman).

There’s also a making-of video here.

If you’d like to see more films like this one, you might consider becoming a Patron.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.