In the words of Douglas Adams, space is big. How big? "Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." Peanuts indeed, but peanuts worth considering — especially as tomorrow, NASA's New Horizons space probe will fly past the icy dwarf planet Pluto after a journey of roughly 3 billion miles.
Even the speed of light seems sedate when cruising through space
Three billion miles! That's more than 13,000 times the distance to the Moon! That's really really far! To try and get a mental grip on this sort of distance, we recommend having a scroll through designer and developer Josh Worth's map of the Solar System, which uses as its scale one pixel equals one Moon (Earth-sized). You can skip from planet to planet the old-fashioned way or take a leisurely speed of light tour through the Solar System. (Yes, even the speed of light seems pretty sedate when whizzing through space.)
Worth created this "tediously accurate" map back in February last year as a way of explaining the size of the Universe to his then-five-year-old daughter. "I kept trying to describe the distance using metaphors like 'if the Earth was the size of a golf ball, then Mars would be across the soccer field' et cetera, but I realized I didn’t really know much about these distances," writes Worth. "Pictures in books, planetarium models, even telescopes are pretty misleading when it comes to judging just how big the universe can be. Are we doing ourselves a disservice by ignoring all the emptiness?"