How to draw the Solar System in just one minute!
Most illustrations of the solar system are not even close to truescale. That is a necessary compromise (as we explain on this page), but it is still important to point it out. Inevitably that leads to the followup question, "Can you show me a more accurate representation of the solar system?"
The best way to answer that question is to demonstrate a truescale model of the solar system with visible planets. Naturally we recommend this one. But sometimes circumstances are not conducive, and what you really need is just a quick and simple illustration. Following is an easy way to show the true distances between planetary orbits, using nothing more than a pencil and paper.
These instructions assume that you are using a standard lettersize piece of paper. But these directions are scalable, meaning you can use them for any size paper, or any size writing surface, even a big chalkboard, whiteboard, etc. (However, we suggest that you do not try this with anything smaller than a lettersize paper, because then the orbits of the inner planets will be too close together to be labeled legibly.) There are only three basic instructions to remember:
The best way to answer that question is to demonstrate a truescale model of the solar system with visible planets. Naturally we recommend this one. But sometimes circumstances are not conducive, and what you really need is just a quick and simple illustration. Following is an easy way to show the true distances between planetary orbits, using nothing more than a pencil and paper.
These instructions assume that you are using a standard lettersize piece of paper. But these directions are scalable, meaning you can use them for any size paper, or any size writing surface, even a big chalkboard, whiteboard, etc. (However, we suggest that you do not try this with anything smaller than a lettersize paper, because then the orbits of the inner planets will be too close together to be labeled legibly.) There are only three basic instructions to remember:
 Divide by thirds.
 Then divide in half until you reach Mercury.
 Skip the Earth, then add it later.
Below we elaborate on those directions:
First, divide by thirds
First, divide by thirds
 It may help to refer to the image below (scroll down).
 Fold the long dimension of your paper in thirds (like you would if you were putting it in an envelope to mail). Then unfold it and note that you have four horizontal reference lines, evenly spaced: the top edge of the paper, the upper fold, the lower fold, and the bottom edge of the paper.
 We will use those four lines to identify the positions of the Sun and the three outermost planets.
 But first, fold the short dimension of your paper in half, and then unfold it. We will refer to that fold as the "radius". Our tick marks for each of the planetary orbits will be placed somewhere along the radius.
 At the point where the radius intersects the top edge of the paper, place a small tick mark and label it "Sun". Write as small as you can (so there will be enough space to label several other points nearby on the radius).
 At the point where the radius intersects the bottom edge of the paper, place a small tick mark and label it "Neptune".
 At the point where the radius intersects the lower fold, place a small tick mark and label it "Uranus".
 At the point where the radius intersects the upper fold, place a small tick mark and label it "Saturn".
Then, keep dividing in half
 Place a tick mark centered right in between the marks for Sun and Saturn. It does not have to be exact, just eyeball it as best you can. Label this mark "Jupiter".
 Place a tick mark right in between the marks for Sun and Jupiter. You may label this mark "Ceres", or you may leave it blank. (Ceres, in case you are not familiar, is the largest object in the main asteroid belt. But it is much smaller than our Moon, and it is not considered a planet. For that reason, you may choose not to label it, but it is still important to make a mark for it in order to get the following positions correct.)
 Place a tick mark right in between the marks for Sun and Ceres. Label this mark "Mars".
 Place a tick mark right in between the marks for Sun and Mars. Important: label this mark "Venus", not "Earth".)
 Place a tick mark right in between the marks for Sun and Venus. Label this mark "Mercury".
 Now, go back and place a tick mark right in between the marks for Venus and Mars. Label this mark "Earth".
Congratulations!
You now have an illustration which comes remarkably close to showing the truetoscale distances between the orbits of each planet in our solar system. It should look like this (the yellow lines represent folds):
You now have an illustration which comes remarkably close to showing the truetoscale distances between the orbits of each planet in our solar system. It should look like this (the yellow lines represent folds):
Reality Check
The actual distance from the Sun to Neptune's orbit is 30 astronomical units (AU). Given that, here are the distances that are derived when following the instructions presented here. Note the similarity of these distances compared to the actual distances:
The actual distance from the Sun to Neptune's orbit is 30 astronomical units (AU). Given that, here are the distances that are derived when following the instructions presented here. Note the similarity of these distances compared to the actual distances:
Uranus

Saturn

Jupiter

Ceres

Mars

Earth

Venus

Mercury

 Again, the goal here is to come up with a reasonably accurate diagram of the solar system that can be easily memorized and demonstrated at a moment's notice, using nothing more than a pencil and paper (or any drawing utensil and drawing surface).
 Notice that the orbits are not evenlyspaced. Rather, the inner planets are relatively close together, whereas the orbits of the outer planets are spaced much farther apart.
 Also note that this diagram illustrates only the planetary orbits, not the planets themselves. At the scale of your diagram, the actual planets would be so small that you would have to use a microscope to see them.
 If you wanted the smallest planet (Mercury) to be visible without using a microscope, you would have to use a paper that is about a halfmile long from edge to edge! At that scale, Mercury would be about the size of a pinhead. Neptune would be about the size of a pea, and its orbit would be a halfmile away from the basketballsized Sun.
 Obviously finding a roll of paper that long is impractical, if not impossible. That is the main reason why OOSS created its portable solar system exhibit: it is the easiest way to demonstrate a truescale diagram of the solar system with visible planets (learn more here).
Extra credit: following are some ways you can try improving on your illustration.
 If you have a drawing compass, you can add circular orbits for each of the planets, using the Sun as your pivot point (see image at the very top of this page).
 And if you do that, then you might consider attaching a second piece of paper along the "Sun" edge. That way you can continue your circles all the way around to show the full orbits.
 Next you might be curious how far it would be to the nextnearest star (at the same scale). Following is how to estimate that:
 Whatever the distance is from your Sun to your Neptune, the nearest star is about 9000 times farther than that.
 So if you are using a standard piece of paper as described above, you would have to lay out about 9000 pieces endtoend to reach the distance of the nearest star.
 It is hard to imagine how far 9000 pieces of paper would reach, so to put that in more understandable terms, let us first calculate a little more precisely by multiplying your SunNeptune distance by 8928.
 That gives the distance to the Alpha Centauri star system, in the same units as your SunNeptune distance. (So if you are using a piece of paper, then your SunNeptune distance is 11 inches, meaning your SunAC distance is 98,208 inches.)
 The result is a very large number, which makes it difficult to grasp. So you will want to divide in order to convert to a longer unit of measure. For example, if you used inches, then you can divide by 12 in order to convert to feet. (In this case, that would be 8,184 feet.)
 If that number is still too large to grasp, then you can divide again by 5280 to convert to miles.
 So if you are using a standard lettersize piece of paper, then the nextclosest solar system would be just over 1.5 miles away.

© COPYRIGHT 20152020. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
