Distance to Mars – A Study in Pixels

Reference to this resource came through on my “Infographics” feed.  So, I checked it out and it’s a very interesting visualization.  When you click start, Earth is visualized as 100 pixels wide.  We all know what a pixel is so it’s an interesting and familiar reference.

Click the arrow at the bottom of the screen and a simulated trip to Mars takes off.  You see lots of stars and heavenly bodies in the background en route.  Of real interest, is that you stop at the Moon on the way.  By comparison, it’s 27 pixels wide.  Click the arrow again and you’re non-stop to Mars, which is red of course, and 53 pixels wide.  Statistics about your travel speed are there to entertain you on the trip.

Just playing the simulation a couple of times is interesting and, for me, a launch pad to some refreshing of my memory about planets.  For that I’m appreciative.

Now, every good blog post has an image.  I thought that it would be interesting to encapsulate the entire visualization in an image so I tried everything that I could on this Macintosh to try to get Earth and Mars on the same screen.  That was way too big.  I could capture everything as a movie with screen capture but you’re further ahead to visit http://www.distancetomars.com and do it for yourself.

Let’s try a Plan B.  How about Earth and the Moon on the same image.  Nope.  By the time I get to the Moon, Earth has scrolled off the top.  I tried every trick I could think of.  I zoomed out as far as it would go.  No success.  I hid the Bookmarks toolbar and went to presentation mode.  The Moon was just out of reach.  I just needed a few pixels more.  1280×800  just wasn’t tall enough.

Man, if I was only writing this on my Ubuntu machine.  I could easily rotate the screen through a setting.

Then, from the back of my memory, I remembered that I could do the same thing on the Mac.  It’s a hidden option in the displays menu.  It’s one of those things that I don’t do regularly but it was something like standing on your left leg, bite your tongue, press some combination of CTRL, OPTION, SHIFT, COMMAND and then open the displays control panel.  I hit the combination and voila! I had options to rotate the screen in four orientation.  I rotated it to the left 90 degrees.  That part was easy!  The hard part was trying to navigate the mouse with the trackpad to confirm the orientation before the computer timed out and resumed normal orientation.

Persevere I did and got my screen capture.  800×1280 pixels gave me the height to capture the distance from Earth to the Moon.

Then, it was a matter of rotating the image back 90 degrees to see it as you do above.

The whole experience was a good one for me.  First, there was the wonderful review of space with the pixel being the scale.  By itself, this would be a fascinating discussion in the classroom.

Beyond that, the nerdy bit of trying to get the Earth-Moon distance (according to the legend of 3000 pixels) to display on a screen that’s 1280×800.  It took a little scaling and rotating but I got it!

Both bits of learning were a great deal of fun.  When I look at the related articles to this resource, I see that I wasn’t the only one playing around with it!

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