Visualization: The Mass of the Entire Solar System
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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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Science

Draining the World’s Oceans to Visualize Earth’s Surface

More than two-thirds of Earth’s surface is covered by water and hidden from sight. This animation drains the world’s oceans to reveal the ocean floor.

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Draining the World’s Oceans to Visualize Earth’s Surface Share

Draining the World’s Oceans to Visualize Earth’s Surface

Although many maps of our planet go into great topographical detail on land, almost two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered by the world’s oceans.

Hidden from sight lie aquatic mountain ranges, continental shelves, and trenches that dive deep into the Earth’s crust. We might be familiar with a few of the well-known formations on the ocean floor, but there’s a whole detailed “world” that’s as rich as the surface, just waiting to be explored.

This animation from planetary researcher James O’Donoghue of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA simulates the draining the world’s oceans to quickly reveal the full extent of the Earth’s surface.

How Deep Does the Ocean Go?

Above sea level, Earth’s topography reaches all the way up to 8,849 meters (29,032 ft) to the top of Mt. Everest. But going below sea level, it actually goes deeper than the height of Everest.

Open ocean is called the pelagic zone, which can be broken down into five regions by depth:

  • 0m–200m: Epipelagic (sunlight zone). Illuminated shallower waters that contain most of the ocean’s plants and animals.
  • 200m–1,000m: Mesopelagic (twilight zone). Stretches from where 1% of surface light reaches to where surface light ends. Contains mainly bacteria, as well as some large organisms like the swordfish and the squid.
  • 1,000m–4,000m: Bathypelagic (midnight zone). Pitch black outside of a few bioluminescent organisms, with no living plants. Smaller anglerfish, squid, and sharks live here, as well as a few large organisms like giant squid.
  • 4,000m–6,000m: Abyssopelagic (abyssal zone). Long thought to be the bottomless end of the sea, the abyssal zone reaches to just above the ocean floor and contains little life due to extremely cold temperatures, high pressures, and complete darkness.
  • 6,000m–11,000m: Hadopelagic (hadal zone). Named after Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, the hadal zone is the deepest part of the ocean. It can be found primarily in trenches below the ocean floor.
  • To put ocean depths into context, the bottom of the ocean is more than 2,000m greater than the peak of Mount Everest.

    What “Draining” the World’s Oceans Reveals

    For a long time, the ocean floor was believed to be less understood than the Moon.

    The sheer depth of water made it difficult to map without newer technology, and the tremendous pressure and extreme temperatures make navigation grueling. A manned vehicle reached the deepest known point of the Mariana Trench—the Challenger Deep—in 1960, almost 90 years after it was first charted in 1872.

    But over the last few decades, humanity’s understanding and exploration of the ocean floor has grown in leaps and bounds. O’Donoghue’s animation shows just how much detail we’ve been missing.

    The first easily noticeable characteristic is the Earth’s continental shelves, which appear quickly. Most are visible by 140 meters, though the Arctic and Antarctic shelves are far deeper.

    The animation then speeds up, as thousands of meters of depth reveal the tops of small mountain ridges and aquatic islands. From 2,000 to 3,000 meters, mid-ocean ridges appear that span the length of the Arctic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

    From 3,000 to 6,000 meters of ocean drained, these aquatic mountains slowly give way to the vast majority of the ocean floor. Little changes over the final 5,000 meters except to illustrate just how deep the ocean’s trenches reach.

    Of course, technically the bottom of the Challenger deep is the deepest known point of the Mariana Trench. As satellite and imaging technology improves further, and aquatic mapping voyages become more possible, who knows what else we’ll discover beneath the waves.

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Misc

How Has Car Safety Improved Over 60 Years?

Seatbelts first became mandatory in the US in 1968. Since then, new technologies have greatly reduced road fatalities.

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Car Safety innovations

How Has Car Safety Improved Over 60 Years?

Did you know that in 2019, there were 6.7 million car accidents in the U.S. alone?

This resulted in 36,096 deaths over the year—an awful statistic to say the least—but one that would be much worse if it weren’t for seatbelts, airbags, and other modern safety devices.

In this infographic, we’ve visualized data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation to show how breakthroughs in car safety have drastically reduced the number of motor vehicle fatalities.

Measuring Safety Improvements

The data shows the number of fatalities for every 100 million miles driven. From a high of 5.1 in 1960 (the first year data is available), we can see that this metric has fallen by 78% to just 1.1.

YearFatilities per 100 million miles
19605.1
19704.7
19803.4
19902.1
20001.5
20101.1
20191.1

What makes this even more impressive is the fact that there are more cars on the road today than in 1960. This can be measured by the total number of miles driven each year.

Vehicle Miles Driven

So, while the total number of miles driven has increased by 371%, the rate of fatalities has decreased by 78%. Below, we’ll take a closer look at some important car safety innovations.

1. The Seatbelt

The introduction of seatbelts was a major stepping stone for improving car safety, especially as vehicles became capable of higher speeds.

The first iteration of seatbelts were a 2-point design because they only looped across a person’s waist (and thus had 2 points of mounting). This design is flawed because it doesn’t hold our upper body in place during a collision.

Today’s seatbelts use a 3-point design which was developed in 1959 by Nils Bohlin, an engineer at Volvo. This design adds a shoulder belt that holds our torso in place during a collision. It took many years for Volvo to not only develop the device, but also to convince the public to use it. The U.S., for instance, did not mandate 3-point seatbelts until 1973.

2. The Airbag

The concept of an airbag is relatively simple—rather than smacking our face against the steering wheel, we cushion the blow with an inflatable pillow.

In practice, however, airbags need to be very precise because it takes just 50 milliseconds for our heads to collide with the wheel in a frontal crash. To inflate in such a short period of time, airbags rely on a chemical reaction using sodium azide.

The design of an airbag’s internal mechanism can also cause issues, as was discovered during the Takata airbag recall. As these airbags inflated, there was a chance for them to also send metal shards flying through the cabin at high speeds.

Dual front airbags (one for each side) were mandated by the U.S. government in 1998. Today, many cars offer side curtain airbags as an option, but these are not required by law.

3. The Backup Camera

Backup cameras became a legal requirement in May 2018, making them one of the newest pieces of standard safety equipment in the U.S. These cameras are designed to reduce the number of backover crashes involving objects, pedestrians, or other cars.

Measuring the safety benefits of backup cameras can be tricky, but a 2014 study did conclude that cameras were useful for preventing collisions. A common criticism of backup cameras is that they limit our field of vision, as opposed to simply turning our heads to face the rear.

Taking Car Safety to the Next Level

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), having both seatbelts and airbags can reduce the chance of death from a head-on collision by 61%. That’s a big reduction, but there’s still plenty of room left on the table for further improvements.

As a result, automakers have been equipping their cars with many technology-enabled safety measures. This includes pre-collision assist systems which use sensors and cameras to help prevent an accident. These systems can prevent you from drifting into another lane (by actually adjusting the steering wheel), or apply the brakes to mitigate an imminent frontal collision.

Whether these systems have any meaningful benefit remains to be seen. Referring to the table above shows that fatalities per 100 million miles have not fallen any further since 2010.

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