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Visualized: The Mass of the Entire Solar System

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Visualized: The Mass of the Entire Solar System

In space, everything feels weightless due to the lack of gravity.

So how do you measure the weight of objects in space? You don’t. When it comes to the cosmos, all that matters is mass.

Today’s interactive data visualization comes from Reddit user Ranger-UK, and is designed by Daniel Caroli. It delves into the different masses which make up our solar system, and how they all compare in size.

A Star Is Born

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Sun eclipses all other nearby objects by mass. At the heart of our solar system, this yellow dwarf’s gravity is what holds it all together.

The Sun actually makes up 99.8% of our entire solar system’s mass — and we’re lucky to be living in the other 0.2%. Responsible for all life on Earth, it’s no wonder that various cultures have worshiped the Sun throughout history, and even dedicated deities to it.

Currently in its middle years — the sun is over four billion years old, and it’s predicted to remain stable for another five billion years. After this, it will overtake the orbits of Mercury and Venus and then shrink back to the size of a white dwarf.

Out Of This World

The gas giants are all more than ten times as massive as Earth, even though they’re mainly made up of hydrogen and helium. They dominate the Solar System’s real estate — once the Sun is taken out of the equation, of course.

In order, here’s how the planets stack up:

PlanetCategoryMassRadiusDensity
JupiterGas giant1,898,600 x 10²¹ kg69,911 ±6 km1.326g/cm³
SaturnGas giant568,460 x 10²¹ kg58,232 ±6 km (*without rings)0.687g/cm³
NeptuneGas giant102,430 x 10²¹ kg24,622 ±19 km1.638g/cm³
UranusGas giant86,832 x 10²¹ kg25,362 ±7 km1.27g/cm³
EarthTerrestrial planet5,974 x 10²¹ kg6.371 ±0.01 km5.514g/cm³
VenusTerrestrial planet4,869 x 10²¹ kg6,051.8 ±1 km (*without gas)5.243g/cm³
MarsTerrestrial planet642 x 10²¹ kg3,389.5 ±0.2 km3.9335g/cm³
MercuryTerrestrial planet330 x 10²¹ kg2,439.7 ±1 km5.427g/cm³

Satellites Out of Control

The further away from the Sun you go, the more moons can be found orbiting planets. Earth’s singular moon is the fifth largest of almost 200 natural satellites found in the solar system.

Mars has two moons that don’t make it into the visualization above due to their low masses:

  • Phobos: 1.08×10^16 kg
  • Deimos: 2.0×10^15 kg

Here’s a breakdown of some other moons out there:

  • Jupiter
    Total named: 53
    Biggest moons: Ganymede, Callisto, Io, Europa
    These four can be seen easily with some help from binoculars.
  • Saturn
    Total named: 53
    Biggest moons: Titan, Rhea, Iapetus, Dione, and Tethys
  • Uranus
    Total named: 27
    Biggest moons: Titania, Oberon, Ariel, Umbriel
  • Neptune
    Total named: 14
    Biggest moon: Triton, which is as big as the dwarf planet Pluto.

Pluto and some “leftovers” of the solar system lie in the distant region of the doughnut-shaped Kuiper belt, between 30 to 50 astronomical units (AU) away. Beginning at the orbit of Neptune, the belt encompasses some of those objects in the visualization categorized as “other”.

So far, we’ve only managed to set foot on our own moon. NASA’s Opportunity rover helped us explore the Red Planet virtually for over 14 years, while the Curiosity is still going strong.

Who knows what else lurks beyond the edges of our solar system?

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth… I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.

— Neil Armstrong, looking back at the Earth from the Moon (July 1969)

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Data Visualization

Exploring the Expanse: 30 Years of Hubble Discoveries

For 30 years, the Hubble Space telescope has been our eye into outer space. This stunning map looks at 550,000 observations made between 1990-2019.

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Exploring the Expanse: 30 Years of Hubble Discoveries

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here.

We’ve been fascinated by space for centuries, but telescopes truly opened our eyes to what lies beyond our frontiers.

For 30 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has been our companion in helping us understand outer space, paving the way for many important scientific discoveries in the process.

A Window to the Universe

Hubble launched on Apr 24, 1990 and has been in our orbit ever since. However, it had something of a shaky start. Due to an error in its primary mirror, it returned many wobbly and blurry images—until a servicing mission in December 1993 fixed the issue.

Today’s incredible map was created by Nadieh Bremer of Visual Cinnamon, for the scientific journal Physics Today. It incorporates over 550,000 scientific observations, to show the diverse objects captured by Hubble between 1990-2019.

Certain constellations have been included to help place these findings, many of which are also visible to the naked eye. Here are the main color-coded categories found on the map:

  • Yellow: Star/ Stellar cluster
    Example: V838 Monocerotis, which includes a red star and a light echo.
  • Red: Galaxy/ Clusters of galaxies
    Example: Spiral galaxy M81, half the size of the Milky Way.
  • Green: Interstellar medium (ISM)
    Example: Eagle Nebula, a majestic spire of cosmic dust and gas, resembling pillars and spanning 4-5 light years.
  • Blue: Solar System
    Example: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a high-pressure storm in the planet’s atmosphere.
  • Pink: Calibration/Unidentified (e.g. Hubble Deep Field surveys)
    Example: Ultra Deep Field, which captured a view of 10,000 galaxies over 11 days—some which date back to the early billion years of the universe.

NASA considers the Hubble telescope the “most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope” and not without good reason—its total observations top 1.3 million.

Hubble Observations, by Category

The journey doesn’t end there, either. Bremer also looked at the frequency of Hubble observations that occurred within each of these categories, ranging from 1,000-20,000.

Hubble Observation by Category

Source: Physics Today

Each category encompasses multiple distinctive descriptions. For example, galaxies can be broken down further into whether they are spiral, nuclear, elliptical-shaped and much more.

Hubble’s Growing Legacy

The images sent back by Hubble over these three decades are not just for aesthetic purposes. The telescope is also responsible for immense contributions to the astronomy field: close to 13,000 scientific papers have used Hubble as a source to date.

The biggest scientific breakthrough thus far? The realization that our universe is expanding at an accelerating rate—thanks to a force called dark energy.

Hubble really did open up the whole universe to us in a way that nothing else did.

—Colleen Hartman, Former Deputy Center Director, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

It’s clear that Hubble already has an impressive legacy, and it’s not expected to be retired until at least the year 2025. Soon, it will be joining forces with the new James Webb Space Telescope, to be launched in March 2021. For the next generation of space enthusiasts, their eyes to the skies may well be the Webb instead.

For the true data viz nerds among us, here is an in-depth blog post detailing the sky map’s creation from scratch.

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Base Metals

All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization

This massive infographic reveals the dramatic scale of 2019 non-fuel mineral global production.

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All the World’s Metals and Minerals in One Visualization

We live in a material world, in that we rely on materials to make our lives better. Without even realizing it, humans consume enormous amounts of metals and minerals with every convenient food package, impressive building, and technological innovation.

Every year, the United States Geological Service (USGS) publishes commodity summaries outlining global mining statistics for over 90 individual minerals and materials. Today’s infographic visualizes the data to reveal the dramatic scale of 2019 non-fuel mineral production.

Read all the way to the bottom; the data will surprise you.

Non-Fuel Minerals: USGS Methodology

A wide variety of minerals can be classified as “non-fuel”, including precious metals, base metals, industrial minerals, and materials used for construction.

Non-fuel minerals are those not used for fuel, such as oil, natural gas and coal. Once non-fuel minerals are used up, there is no replacing them. However, many can be recycled continuously.

The USGS tracked both refinery and mine production of these various minerals. This means that some minerals are the essential ingredients for others on the list. For example, iron ore is critical for steel production, and bauxite ore gets refined into aluminum.

Top 10 Minerals and Metals by Production

Sand and gravel are at the top of the list of non-fuel mineral production.

As these materials are the basic components for the manufacturing of concrete, roads, and buildings, it’s not surprising they take the lead.

RankMetal/Mineral2019 Production (millions of metric tons)
#1Sand and Gravel50,000
#2Cement4,100
#3Iron and Steel3,200
#4Iron Ore2,500
#5Bauxite500
#6Lime430
#7Salt293
#8Phosphate Rock240
#9Nitrogen150
#10Gypsum140

These materials fertilize the food we eat, and they also form the structures we live in and the roads we drive on. They are the bones of the global economy.

Let’s dive into some more specific categories covered on the infographic.

Base Metals

While cement, sand, and gravel may be the bones of global infrastructure, base metals are its lifeblood. Their consumption is an important indicator of the overall health of an economy.

Base metals are non-ferrous, meaning they contain no iron. They are often more abundant in nature and sometimes easier to mine, so their prices are generally lower than precious metals.

RankBase Metal2019 Production (millions of metric tons)
#1Aluminum64.0
#2Copper20.0
#3Zinc13.0
#4Lead4.5
#5Nickel2.7
#6Tin0.3

Base metals are also the critical materials that will help to deliver a green and renewable future. The electrification of everything will require vast amounts of base metals to make everything from batteries to solar cells work.

Precious Metals

Gold and precious metals grab the headlines because of their rarity ⁠— and their production shows just how rare they are.

RankPrecious Metal2019 Production (metric tons)
#1Silver27,000
#2Gold3,300
#3Palladium210
#4Platinum180

While metals form the structure and veins of the global economy, ultimately it is humans and animals that make the flesh of the world, driving consumption patterns.

A Material World: A Perspective on Scale

The global economy’s appetite for materials has quadrupled since 1970, faster than the population, which only doubled. On average, each human uses more than 13 metric tons of materials per year.

In 2017, it’s estimated that humans consumed 100.6B metric tons of material in total. Half of the total comprises sand, clay, gravel, and cement used for building, along with the other minerals mined to produce fertilizer. Coal, oil, and gas make up 15% of the total, while metal makes up 10%. The final quarter are plants and trees used for food and fuel.

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