Orbit map of the solar system reveals gorgeous planetary perspective

June 27, 2019, 9:15 a.m.
This map shows shows the orbits of more than 18,000 asteroids in the solar system.
Photo: Eleanor Lutz/Tabletop Whale

Look closely at the stunning image above. The amazing graphic is more than just mesmerizing and cool; it's a unique map with an interesting view of the solar system.

The solar system map shows the orbits of more than 18,000 celestial objects — including about 10,000 asteroids and 8,000 other objects in the system. The map was created by Eleanor Lutz, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at the University of Washington, on her blog, Tabletop Whale. The map shows each asteroid at its exact position on New Year's Eve in 1999.

Lutz uses public data from NASA, United States Geological Survey (USGS) and other organizations to design this and all her scientific, artistic creations.

The perspective on the map is a bit disconcerting since we're used to seeing the solar system with planets all lined up nicely in a row.

"I think the most unusual part of this map is the logarithmic scale — a mapping technique that can show both the inner asteroid belt and the furthest asteroids in the Kuiper Belt on the same map," Lutz tells MNN. "I also mapped the positions of 18,000 asteroids, which is more than what is usually included in textbook diagrams of the solar system."

Lutz worked as a freelance designer after finishing her undergraduate degree. She didn't have many scientists or researchers as clients, but because science was her passion, she created biology infographics in her free time. She makes infographics about any science topic or theme that she finds exciting, she says, and keeps a running list of possible project ideas in a digital notebook.

Like the above map that forces viewers to look at the celestial world in a different way, Lutz hopes people will be inspired by her creations.

"I really love astronomy, and in part I made these maps because I wanted to explore the full range of everything we know about the solar system," she says. "So I'm hoping to share my feeling that the solar system is a pretty amazing place, and that it's even more amazing that we understand so much about it."