Comparison of Selected Objects in our Solar System
Our solar system is home to various celestial objects, including planets, moons, asteroids, and even dwarf planets.
All of these objects differ in many ways, yet work in perfect unison. A comparative study of the various features of these celestial bodies gives us some fascinating results.
The above animation from planetary scientist Dr. James O’Donoghue helps put in perspective the different objects in the solar system in terms of size, rotational speed, and the axial tilt at which they rotate.
Selected Solar System Objects to Scale
With such a diverse solar system of planets and other celestial objects, there is no shortage of questions to think about. Like what is the exact diameter of Jupiter, or how fast does Pluto rotate?
To answer them, here is a comparison of some select celestial bodies in our solar system, going from the biggest to smallest objects:
|Celestial Body||Diameter (km)||Rotational Period (Hours)||Axial Tilt|
Planets like Venus or Pluto rotate in the opposite direction to Earth, or in retrograde, and thus are denoted with a negative symbol before their values.
Another interesting observation is that the Sun rotates on its axis only once in about 27 days and has an axial tilt of about 7.25 degrees from the axis of Earth’s orbit. Hence, we see more of the Sun’s north pole in September of each year and the south pole in March.
How do the Various Objects Compare Against Earth?
The Earth we live on is a unique planet within our solar system containing water and air, and is where living things thrive. But, aside from those surface level differences, is our home really different from other planets and celestial objects?
In the table below, we compare other nearby celestial bodies with Earth, using ratios—this time, from smallest to largest:
|Celestial Body||Diameter (ratio to Earth)||Rotational Period (ratio to Earth)|
Though Jupiter is around 11 times wider than Earth, its rotational period is only 0.4 times as long as our planet’s—meaning it rotates at a much faster speed.
On the other hand, Venus uses a slow and steady approach, taking 244 times longer to make one rotation (in comparison to background stars) when contrasted to Earth.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Visualized: Which Countries are Dominating Space?
Which countries dominate outer space? This visual displays the number of objects every country has launched into space over time.
Visualized: Which Countries are Dominating Space
Believe it or not, there is a lot of stuff in space. In fact, our atmosphere is filled with more than 11,000 objects that have been launched since the foray into space began.
The Space Race started during the Cold War, and early on the Soviet Union dominated when it came to the amount of devices and objects launched into our atmosphere. But a few years ago, the U.S. took back that title with Elon Musk’s SpaceX helping lead the charge.
This visual, using data from Our World in Data, breaks down the amount of objects launched into space by country over time.
What Gets Launched Into Space?
What are the objects being sent into our atmosphere and why are they so important? Here’s a look at just a few:
- Crewed spacecraft
- Space station flight equipment
Probes and landers like the Mars Rover, for example, have helped scientists explore other planets. Satellites provide us with everyday necessities like cell phone service, far reaching television signals, satellite imagery, and GPS.
As of late 2021, there were around 4,852 operational satellites in orbit—2,944 belonging to the United States. Here’s a quick look at what the U.S. uses its satellites for:
- Commercial: 2,516
- Military: 230
- Government: 168
- Civil: 30
Many satellites in orbit, however, are no longer functional. In fact, there is a lot of junk in space—according to NASA, there are over 27,000 pieces of space debris in orbit.
The Space Race, by Country
The venture into outer space began during the Cold War when the USSR launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1 in 1957. After this, the U.S. and Soviet Union entered a definitive competition between technological advancements and scientific exploration into space—an extension of the battle between political ideologies.
Few countries have come close in matching either the U.S. or Russia so far. Here’s a look at the cumulative number of objects different countries have launched into orbit and beyond.
|Rank||Country||Cumulative Number of Objects Launched into Space|
|#1||🇺🇸 United States||5,534|
|#12||🇰🇷 South Korea||43|
|#23||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||17|
|#24||🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||17|
|#30||🇳🇿 New Zealand||14|
|#47||🇿🇦 South Africa||5|
|#61||🇰🇵 North Korea||2|
|#63||🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||2|
|#72||🇨🇷 Costa Rica||1|
|#79||🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||1|
One important disclaimer here is that not all of these countries have orbital launch capabilities, meaning that although the satellite in space may belong to a certain country, that doesn’t mean that it was launched by said country. For example, the UK’s first launch in 1971 was out of Australia and France’s first launch took place in Algeria in 1965.
In total, around 86 countries have attempted some kind of entry into space. However, as of 2022, only 11 countries have the ability to send objects into space using their own launch vehicles, and only three—the U.S., Russia, and China—have ever launched people into outer space.
The Future of Space
With corporations beginning to take the lead in this new frontier, the landscape of space launches is changing. In 2019 Starlink, a constellation of satellites which provides 36 countries with internet access, was launched. With over 2,200 Starlink satellites in the sky and counting, SpaceX’s ultimate goal is global internet coverage; China is planning a similar venture.
Beyond useful satellites and scientific exploration, other potential space industries are emerging.
As one example, the business of commercial space tourism is no longer a futuristic concept. In late 2021, famous billionaire and founder of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson flew briefly into space on a private flight. Jeff Bezos, having founded Blue Origin, followed shortly after.
Today, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration for passenger space travel. However, if you want to be launched into space, it will cost you around $250,000-$500,000.
The Cost of Space Flight Before and After SpaceX
How much does a space flight cost? Here’s a look at the cost per kilogram for space launches across the globe since 1960.
The Cost of Space Flight Before and After SpaceX
On December 21, 2021, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched a cargo capsule to deliver supplies and Christmas gifts to astronauts in the International Space Station.
Just eight minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, landing on one of SpaceX’s drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean. This marked the company’s 100th successful landing.
Like other companies such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Ball Aerospace, SpaceX is designing and building innovative spacecraft that are speeding up space delivery by making it more routine and affordable. But how much does it cost to launch a cargo rocket into space, and how has this cost changed over the years?
In the graphic above we take a look at the cost per kilogram for space launches across the globe since 1960, based on data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Space Race
The 20th-century was marked by competition between two Cold War adversaries, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States, to achieve superior spaceflight capability.
The space race led to great technological advances, but these innovations came at a high cost. For instance, during the 1960s NASA spent $28 billion to land astronauts on the moon, a cost today equating to about $288 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.
In the last two decades, space startup companies have demonstrated they can compete against heavyweight aerospace contractors as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Today, a SpaceX rocket launching can be 97% cheaper than a Russian Soyuz ride cost in the ’60s.
The key to increasing cost efficiency?
SpaceX rocket boosters usually return to Earth in good enough condition that they’re able to be refurbished, which saves money and helps the company undercut competitors’ prices.
Although competition has brought prices down for cargo flights, human space transportation is still pricey.
During the last 60 years, roughly 600 people have flown into space, and the vast majority of them have been government astronauts.
For a suborbital trip on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard, seats typically cost $250,000 to $500,000. Flights beyond that to actual orbit—a much higher altitude—are far more expensive, fetching more than $50 million per seat.
The Future of Space Flight
In a SpaceX press briefing, SpaceX Director Benji Reed said, “We want to make life multi-planetary, and that means putting millions of people in space.”
This may still seem like a stretch for most people. But, given the decreasing cost of space flights over the last two decades, perhaps the sky won’t be the limit in the near future.
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