7 May 2015

You Really Cannot Imagine How Far Away Pluto Is, But This May Help.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

A view of Pluto and its moon Charon from New Horizons. This is the view of Pluto ever seen!

A view of Pluto and its moon Charon from New Horizons. This is the best view of Pluto ever seen!


Photographer Jared Pearman and I doing a stand-up in Ocean City.

Photographer Jared Pearman and I doing a stand-up in Ocean City.

I aired a story tonight I have wanted to share for over 20 years. It has to do with the New Horizons mission which will fly by Pluto in July and allow us to see what it looks like for the FIRST TIME IN HISTORY, but I want to give you an idea of how very, very far away Pluto is. You will likely see some news reports in coming months that tell you how many miles away Pluto is, but at distances this large, that is meaningless. I tried to find a better way, and hopefully succeeded.

So, I made a scale model of the Solar System on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland. The reason you’ve never seen a real scale mode of our solar system is because to do it right, it takes a LOT of space. Being the Chief Meteorologist at a TV station with its own news helicopter can pay dividends when you want to show something that is very big, and my employer, WBOC-TV spent the expensive helicopter time to grab the shot.

The story is below, and after you watch it, I’ll show you how to build your own scale model. It makes a great family project at the beach on a sunny day!
WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 –


The New Horizons spacecraft will pass closest to Pluto in July, but we are already starting to get some first pictures that already surpass what the Hubble Space telescope can see. The images will get clearer and clearer in the coming weeks, and in July, for the first time in history, we will see what Pluto looks like. Pluto is a minor planet though, not a major one. Our solar system has only 8 planets, and if you want to know more about why Pluto was demoted, there are a couple of good books about it. One is by Astronomer Mike Brown entitled, How I killed Pluto, and Why it Had it Coming. Also Neil de Grasse Tyson’s Pluto Files.

If you want to use a ball with a diameter of 18 inches for the Sun, then the data below will show you how large the planets would be and their distance from the ball on your scale model of the solar system.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 8.33.06 PM

You can also use this Open Office file: sol_sys .

*Just change the value of the size of your sun from 18 inches to any size you choose, and it will update with the proper values. The Open Office spreadsheet file is courtesy of the Exploratorium in San Francisco. A big thanks to Joseph Cooper who edited the piece, and shot the video from the air and Video journalist Jared Pearman who shot the video on the beach an carried all that heavy equipment to boot! Also our chopper pilot Pat Nelms.